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Chips off the old block;Set Play;Theatre

Barrie Rutter says he's carefully avoided "two ugly sisters and a Cinderella" in his Northern Broadsides' production of King Lear. "But having said that, the tyrannical rage against Cordelia, who could be Cinderella, doesn't half come quick!" Lear's energy and passion suits the company's raw, forthright and passionate style. Rutter, who plays the title role as well, has asked the actors playing his daughters to pick up his mannerisms in rehearsal, so that they are seen to be chips off the old block.

"It's another one of Shakespeare's hard, flinty, granite plays," he says. "There are great storming rows in it. It's also the most Greek of his plays. The nihilism at the end, the human situation of coming to reason through insanity, coming to sight through blindness, coming through suffering to a better world - they're all wonderful Greek tragedy ideas, much more so than in any other of his plays."

Rutter is keen to establish the metaphor of a flat, arid landscape for the second half of the play, which is filled with storm and tragedy, and he has seized on the word "nothing''to build up to that metaphor.

"Nothing will come of nothing," Lear tells the undemonstrative Cordelia. The word is repeated in scenes involving Gloucester, another irrational father, and his sons. Lear has created the nothingness; his fragment-ation of everything has created a vacuum.

"The other big thing in this play is the natural world," Rutter says. "Everybody appeals to nature yet if we as human beings act naturally it becomes unnatural. The whole discussion of nature and human nature is a massive, internal boiling tornado within this play. It goes right through it. Nobody curbs their natural responses, hence the mighty clash. Nerve endings are very near the surface for most characters. It's very, very passionate, it's a jungle of feral, raw emotion."

Rutter has never bothered with psychological reasoning and interpretations and he is not about to start. When the play opens, Lear is found wanting, but there is no explanation for this.

"As so often in Shakespeare there are givens. And you have to go with the givens. Like Iago is evil, Richard III is evil - there's no explanation for it, you just go for it. The explanations come, if you like, in the rest of the play."

Lear may be a king but it's not important. Rutter does not mention kingship as such. Lear is simply the boss, he has power and his story is of power gone mad.

Kevin Berry

Touring nationally until November 20. Information: 01422 369704.

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