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King Lear is a real coup for company; Acclaimed director Jonathan Miller is working with Northern Broadsides - for a second time.

Byline: Theatre Hilarie Stelfox

SECURING the talents of acclaimed theatre and opera director Sir Jonathan Miller is a real coup for Calderdale-based theatre company Northern Broadsides.

But the new production of King Lear, premiering at the Viaduct Theatre in Dean Clough Mills, Halifax, on February 27, will not be the 80-yearold cultural giant's first involvement with the company. Back in 2013 he directed Broadsides' revival of the early 20th century play Rutherford & Son.

Northern Broadsides' founder and artistic director Barrie Rutter, who was awarded an OBE for services to drama in the New Year's Honours List, says it proved to be surprisingly simple to get Sir Jonathan on board, but it must help that the two men knew each other from their time in the 1980s at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford.

Barrie explains: "We had decided to do Rutherford & Son and Sue (Andrews, the executive director) said we could do with a bit of a boost. So I said I would get a guest director, I would get Jonathan Miller. I sent him the play and he said yes."

Taking on Lear, which will tour until mid June, seemed like a natural progression. As Barrie says: "It was his suggestion. He said: 'it's the play I know best.'" In fact, Sir Jonathan is a great admirer of the work and has famously described Lear as "the most interesting play Shakespeare ever wrote". He has directed several productions of the play.

And so for the last four weeks the cast has been in London rehearsing with Sir Jonathan. Barrie, who is playing the title role, explained why they'd abandoned their usual rehearsal space at Dean Clough: "Jonathan is 80 now so we couldn't expect him to spend five weeks in Halifax, so as a generous nod to him we are rehearsing just around the corner from where he lives. But he will becoming up North to do the technical work and see the first performances."

It will be the second time that Barrie has played Lear since he founded Northern Broadsides 22 years ago. The first time followed the tragic death of an actor Barrie refers to as "the late great Brian Glover".

"He was going to play Lear but then developed a brain tumour that killed him. You don't get another Brian Glover so, because it was my company, Glover so, because it was my company, I had to take on Lear, although I knew I was far too young."

However, now aged 68, he is the per" fect age to play the tormented monarch, head of a family at war with itself. He also feels that the subterranean Theatre in the bowels of the Victorian mill in Halifax is a perfect venue for the play. "It seems like such a Lear setting," he said, "with all that stone and iron and darkness".

Barrie says the Miller production has taken the play and stripped it back to its heart and soul. He explains: "The play was written in 1604/5 and it is only a few years later that the country not only gets rid of a king but kills him, which is what Lear's daughters do. Jonathan takes an almost forensic approach to directing - from his days being a houseman and doctor - and what he's taught me is that Lear is a real study of depression and madness. There is also Lear's realisation that 99% of his nation are living in the circumstances that he finds himself." Although King Lear is often set in " pagan England, Sir Jonathan has set this production in the year in which it was written. He says: "Here is a play in which a monarch who has always which a monarch who has always 'slenderly known himself' has irresponsibly divided his kingdom in the same year that James I united the kingdoms of England and Scotland. The play is a straightforward, elegant representation of the relationships between monarchs and their subjects on the one hand and comparable relationships between fathers and their offspring. As always with Northern Broadsides the conversational quality of the actor's performances allows one to emphasise the intelligibility of these complementary relationships."

As well as securing an acclaimed director, the production has the services of international set and costume designer Isabella Bywater and talented lighting designer Guy Hoare - the same team that worked on Rutherford & Son.

With a cast of experienced stage and screen actors and a big name director, ticket sales for King Lear have gone well. After the opening week in Halifax (box office 01422 255266 www. deanclough.com), which ends on March 7, the production begins a tour that takes in West Yorkshire Playhouse from April 8 to 18. A

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NOBBY CLARK Barrie Rutter as King Lear during rehearsals with Northern Broadsides |
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 20, 2015
Words:798
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