King Lear, Guildford Shakespeare Company

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Blog #1

It is impossible to treat this production of King Lear just like any other review. The Guildford Shakespeare Company is a decent provincial theatre, who are just about professional and tend to use public spaces for their productions. Brian Blessed has been a star of stage and screen for over 40 years and is one of the country’s most familiar celebrities. This Lear is not at the National but at Holy Trinity Church at the top of the High Street. It’s a bit like Stephen Gerrard turning out for Godalming FC. The hype around this star dominated production only increased when Blessed collapsed on the opening night, returning after a cup of tea to complete the role. This did add some spice for the audience; every time Blessed gasped or fell to the floor, reeling from the insult of his daughters, we all held our breath in case it was a return of his heart murmur! Ironically it was a member of the audience who was carried out when we there, and Blessed asked at the end if they were OK.

So, I don’t think you can review all the elements together. Looking at the company first, this was a large cast by GSC standards, and it showed. While some of the familiar actors put in very competent performances (Matt Pinches as Edgar, and Ben Ashton as Edward) and some very good performances (the daughters) some of the smaller characters were clearly at the start of their careers. Blessed’s daughter Rosalind was a spectacularly bitchy Goneril and at times could shriek as loud as her father. She and Sarah Gobran were utterly convincing as the wrathful sisters, grabbing their inheritance with greedy lust. The staging was more questionable. This is the third of their productions we have seen in this Church, and this one worked least well. The audience were facing the alter, but there was an elaborate tent on the left hand side to make an extra room, which meant the main playing space was cramped.  Scene transitions were distinctly clunky though it was early days when we saw it, so this may improve.

So what of out star? It took time to get into Blessed’s portrayal. Having seen Russell Beale’s Lear twice last year, this was so different. Beal’s Lear was a cold, often dispassionate anger and bitterness at his treatment, but Blessed’s Lear relapses to childhood, singing musing and playing. Most often he is soft, warm and human with just the occasional outburst from that colossal voice. Blessed’s Lear is human, real and recognisable; a confused old man who doesn’t understand what has happened and how he got to be where he was. Full of compassion to those who remain with him he was a broken and despairing father rather than a tyrant.  The storm scene in particular was, I thought rather more successful than the National production, with great lights and sound and superbly choreographed action as Poor Tom appears. Overall I think a highly competent production but quite a special one for Brian Blessed.

The Lies of Locke Lamora - regular readers will instantly recognise that I have been reading Matthew’s books again. It is a decent story, and I liked that the main character is useless in a fight. His only purpose in a brawl is to beaten up and at the end as he battles the baddie character with a sword the Grey King stops, looks him up and down and say “You’re not very good at this are you?” What Locke Lemora does is con people. Actually, con rich people. He doesn’t go the full Robin Hood as he neglects to give his proceeds to the poor – though he and his gang don’t bother to spend it either. He just accumulates money for, well not the fun of it, it is just what they do. Trained from childhood by a dissolute priest, Locke has been educated in what he is not – to be a sophisticated, rich noble. He has learned gourmet cookery, a host of languages, fashion, etiquette and joined the priesthoods of all the competing deities. In a single day he appears to his victim as a rich merchant from a foreign land and later as a member of the state Nightwatch. He even cons the mafia boss he is supposed to work for – who knows nothing of his grandiose schemes.

Happily after the first 50 odd pages, the unexpected keeps happening. Just when you are confident you know what is happening, the opposite occurs. The shocks and surprises come thick and fast and until the overly sentimentalised final chapter, I thought this was a great story.

However, it occurs to me that while I want a good story, the writer of a fantasy book probably lavishes most of their love and attention on creating their world – Gaie, you might like to correct me here! The city is carefully described and although there are no maps, I am sure Scott Lynch has plenty. And yet from my point of view, the story is set in generic Fantasy Land. It has a port (harbour, ships) with a very wealthy elite, some merchants from a wide variety of countries and lots of very poor workers. Crime is organised, but brothels (all staffed by tarts with hearts) are independently owned and run by women. Men drink and play cards when not fighting, while women….. only exist as females occupying male roles ie female fighters, female criminals, female aristocrats or tarts with hearts. There are a variety of religious cults, all of which are respected by the people at least in terms of politeness. Violence is widespread and policing inadequate or laughable. Oh, magic. Not a great deal, but ‘alchemical’ globes provide light or other small marvels to help things run smoothly. And finally there are also mysterious artefacts or buildings left behind by a mysterious previous race.

I think the above describes the world nearly every fantasy book I have ever read has been set in.

I really don’t mind, but I do wonder how this Fantasy/medieval world was arrived at. Why has this become the generic fantasy world?


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