Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lewis Reynolds: Directing Lear

By | Published on Tuesday 11 March 2014


A new production of ‘King Lear’ is on at The Cockpit in Marylebone this month starring stage and screen veteran David Ryall.

Over the course of his career, he’s appeared in myriad Shakespeare plays, trod the boards of the National Theatre, and worked for the RSC, while also putting in a significant number of film and TV performances, most recently and notably as Frank in ‘Outnumbered’, Old Bert in ‘The Village’, and Elphias Doge in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’.

The actor’s depth of Shakespearean experience is bound to make this a production worth seeing, and for added interest, Ryall’s actual daughter Charlie Ryall will be playing his onstage daughter Cordelia. I sent some questions over to the show’s director Lewis Reynolds, to find out more about the production.

CM: This production is the first outing of a new project, Darker Purpose Theatre. What are the aims of this company?
LR: The aims of Darker Purpose Theatre are to put on productions of the highest possible quality; to focus on the relationship between audience and performers and foster complicity within the performance environment; to encourage collaboration between experienced professionals and creators at the start of their career, allowing traditions and techniques to be passed on whilst evolving with the changing world.

CM: How did veteran stage and screen actor David Ryall come to be involved?
LR: David was involved from the start. The project originated in discussions between the two of us. I met David on a District line tube in 2011. I was preparing a production of Euripides’ ‘Iphigenia at Aulis’ for an outdoor venue on the Southbank; David was performing as Feste in Peter Hall’s National Theatre production of Twelfth Night. He couldn’t escape! I told him how much I admired his work and asked him to play the prophet Calchas in Iphigenia. To my delight he agreed there and then. As it turned out, he played Iphigenia’s mother, Clytemnestra, as well, as the production used only 4 actors playing all the roles, as the Greeks would have done. While we were working on ‘Iphigenia’ David and I developed an understanding, and as that project came to an end we started talking about the King himself.

CM: What made you choose Lear for your first production?
LR: I chose Lear in the first instance because I wanted to work on it with David. He has such a facility with Shakespeare’s text, and such natural authority. Lear was the part I wanted to see him play, and the part he wanted to play. As Kent says to Lear – “You have that in your countenance which I would fain call master… Authority.” Lear is also a great ensemble piece. It is by no means a one-man show. It has 12 main parts! It was an opportunity for me to develop an ensemble cast and work with some truly fabulous actors. They were all attracted to the possibility of working with David – but also all get fantastic story-lines to sink their teeth into. It is a great piece to have a mixture of experienced actors and fresh talent – just as I was able to benefit from working with Designer Alexander McPherson and Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham.

CM: Do you think the casting of a real father and daughter to play Lear and Cordelia adds anything to the show? Does it add anything to their working relationship?
LR: Yes I do think it adds something to the show, although I’m not sure I can put my finger on what exactly that is. It’s not dependent on the audience knowing they are father and daughter. Of course there’s a family resemblance; and shared aspects of deportment or manner come through in a way which it would be impossible to create. It’s in the finer detail. Lear says to Cordelia every night, “Forget, and forgive?” It means something to me, but audiences will have to decide for themselves.

CM: Is it challenging to stage this kind of play in a smaller space? Have you adapted the script in any way to make this work?
LR: This question suggests that there is an “ideal” shape and size of playing space for ‘King Lear’ which The Cockpit fails to match. But I chose the Cockpit ahead of larger venues. The Cockpit is a fantastic space. It has an atmosphere unique to itself; once you’re in there it’s easy to forget the outside world, and become immersed in the world which Alexander McPherson and Davy Cunningham have created for ‘Lear’. It’s a tall space, and you look up and wonder where it ends. Alexander and I made the decision to use the height – two scenes are staged on the upper gantries. Any director of ‘King Lear’ has to make decisions about the text. There are, broadly speaking, two distinct versions of the play in existence. I have made several cuts, although they were dictated by storytelling considerations, not in order to help me “deal” with the space in any way. I’m very happy with the space.

CM: Do you hope to stage further productions with Darker Purpose Theatre? If so, any ideas what might come next…?
LR: I certainly would like to stage further productions with Darker Purpose Theatre. There are several suggestions on the table but we’ll enjoy the Lear run before making any decisions. I’ve certainly caught the Shakespeare bug. When I was studying the Greek tragedians and hadn’t read much Shakespeare, I was sceptical of students who gushed about “the bard”. No longer! His writing is intoxicating; it would be hard not to work on another of his plays as soon as possible. After this world of “darkness and devils”, it was a welcome relief a few days ago to pick up ‘As You Like It’ and go to the forest of Adren! Whether that means we’ll stage ‘As You Like It’, I’m not sure. I’d love to. I had the opportunity to work on ‘The Cherry Orchard’ in Dominic Kelly’s Meisner classes last year, which opened up a way of thinking about Chekhov that I certainly want to pursue. But I don’t only want to do classics. There is so much excellent new writing, and a lot of work, written and unwritten, which is “still to come”. It’s fair to say there’s a surfeit of ideas; I’ll let the dust settle after ‘Lear’ before facing the reality that I can only do one thing at a time.

CM: What’s your favourite quotation from the play?
LR: This varies from day to day, performance to performance. You find favourite lines when you’re reading the play, but good actors always bring colours you couldn’t have thought of yourself. After Gloucester’s blinding, Regan (Nikki Leigh Scott) says “let him smell his way to Dover”. Wow. The way Ryan Wichert (Fool) delivers “He that keeps nor crust nor crumb, Weary of all, shall want some” has me in stitches still, after hearing is twenty thousand times. Ian Hallard can squeeze delight out of any line – the more mundane the better. It’s about the actor in the moment.

‘King Lear’ is on at The Cockpit until 29 Mar. See this page here for more details and to book tickets.

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