King Lear

Written by William Shakespeare

Thurs 22nd April - Sat 24th April & Tues 27th April - Sat 1st May 1999

Directed by Nathan Chapman & Damon Wakelin

A King takes leave of his senses, his kingdom and his daughters. Those who are honest are persecuted. Children plot against their fathers. A divided nation is blasted by thunder and imminent war.

William Shakespeare at the height of his powers, creates one of the greatest pieces of theatre ever known. A scathing portrait of a kingdom in turmoil, a tour de force of poetry atmosphere and character. King Lear is an ancient story with acute modern relevance, a critique of sanity, age, honour, wisdom and trust.

What good can transpire when the King is wise and the fool is mad, when honest men are punished and exiled, when a son turns against his father? Bench Theatre bring this brilliant tragedy to life.

AuthorWilliam Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Shakespeare is considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time and is possibly the most famous playwright in the English-speaking world.

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon he was also probably educated there however, very little is known of his early life. The next documented event in his life is his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway. The couple had a daughter the following year and twins in 1585. Another gap followed (referred to by some scholars as 'the lost years') with Shakespeare only reappearing in London in 1592, when he was already working in the theatre.

Shakespeare's acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain's Company, which was renamed the King's Company in 1603 when James succeeded to the throne. The group acquired interests in two theatres in the Southwark area of London, near the banks of the Thames - the Globe and the Blackfriars.

Shakespeare's poetry was published before his plays, with two poems appearing in 1593 and 1594, dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Most of Shakespeare's sonnets were probably written at this time as well. Records of Shakespeare's plays begin to appear in 1594, and he produced roughly two a year until around 1611. Some of his most famous tragedies (including Macbeth) were written in the very early 1600s. The first collected edition of his works wasn't published until 1623, some 7 years after his death.

Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, and he was buried in the Holy Trinity Church there.

PlayKing Lear

Lear, the powerful ruler of Britain, has decided to divide his great kingdom into three parts each to be governed by one of his three daughters. He is old and tired and feels that the heavy burdens of state should be passed onto younger shoulders. His two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, are already married. Goneril to the Duke of Albany, and Regan to the Duke of Cornwall. Lear's youngest daughter, and favourite, Cordelia, is being courted by both the the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. Lear plans to keep a train of one hundred loyal followers, to be maintained by his daughters, and to spend his remaining years visiting each of them in turn.

Before he gives away his kingdom, however, Lear asks each of his daughters how much they love him. As Goneril and Regan try to outdo each other in exaggerated claims of love and devotion to their father, Cordelia grows more and more troubled, for she is not by nature, given to making speeches about her deepest feelings. When her turn comes to answer, she tells him that she loves him as a daughter but that when she marries show will, of course, love her husband too. Her honest and forthright reply angers Lear, and in a blaze of wrath, he disowns her, and decides to split his kingdom into two rather than three parts. The Earl of Kent, who understands Cordelia's deep love for her father, tries to dissuade Lear from his rash action, and only succeeds in prodding Lear into such fury that he himself is banished from Britain on pain of death if he should ever return.

When the Duke of Burgundy hears that Cordelia no longer brings a rich dowry with her, he refuses to marry her. But the King of France, who loves her for herself, takes her with him to be his Queen.

The Bench Production

King Lear poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


King LearPeter Corrigan
GonerilSally Hartley
ReganDebbie Money
CordeliaNatasha Hancock
The Duke of AlbanyMark Wakeman
The Duke of CornwallAlan Welton
The King of FranceKevin Turvey
The Duke of BurgundyDamon Wakelin
The Earl of KentJohn Scadding
The Earl of GloucesterPete Woodward
EdgarPaul Davies
EdmundAndrew Wright
OswaldNathan Chapman
FoolDavid Penrose
CuranKevin Turvey
DoctorAlan Welton
John Blackmore
Spencer Glanville
Steve J
Kevin Turvey
David Penrose
Damon Wakelin
Alan Welton


Directors Nathan Chapman
Damon Wakelin
Stage Manager Sam Emery
Assistant Stage Manager Zoë Corrigan
Costume and Set
Design and Realisation
Naomi Parsons
Derek Callam
Sam Emery
Zoë Corrigan
Sharman Callam
Lighting Design Damon Wakelin
Lighting Operation Stuart Monk
Publicity Alice Corrigan
Fight Choreography Brendon Burns
Musicians Spencer Glanville
Steve J
Handbill Design Pete Woodward
Programme Nathan Chapman
Front of House Jacquie Penrose
Photography Tim Taylor

Director's Notes

King Lear is an immense piece of work dealing with immense issues. The question the play asks of its actors and producers are huge and troublesome, and its reputation precedes it. The popularity of the play, or at least the general familiarity with its story, is just one extra hurdle to jump, as one is constantly aware of the high expectations audiences will have. This is probably why it has taken us three months of rehearsal, two directors, nineteen actors and almost as many crew and designers to get to this stage.

With Shakespeare, the possibilities for design concepts and approach are limitless, and can give you the sense of treading water before you enter rehearsal. So how do you get to grips with a play of this stature? Well you could say we took the car mechanic's approach. We stripped the play down to its barest essentials, the essence of its appeal to us as individuals. On the most basic level, King Lear is a great story. That was our starting point, and we built it up from there from the chassis. Piece by piece, as the work started, the brilliance of the play revealed itself, through little conscious effort on anyone's part, and eventually King Lear began to direct us.

Actors were being drawn into their characters, listening to what they were saying, doing as they commanded, and it all seemed to be working. So we all stopped trying to be clever, stopped trying to shoe-horn this play in to an ill-fitting design concept, stopped trying to steer the Titanic towards a thematic iceberg. The play itself, no convolution or shift of emphasis, no favouring one idea over another, could possibly do it justice.

King Lear is a play. King Lear is a man. An old man who used to be great, going mad in a raging storm with only a fool, a mad beggar and a servant with dog-like loyalty for company. Lear's downfall came about because through the flaws in his character, and the flaws in others. Because King Lear the man is only human, and that is how we treated King Lear the play. The body of work is a reflection of the human body, with all its delights, flaws, glory and tantrums. It is dealing with the most human topics, and we strove to make this production as human as we could.

Nathan Chapman and Damon Wakelin


The News

Colossal undertaking succeeds

Shakespeare's second greatest play (after Hamlet) is a colossal undertaking for any amateur company, and Bench Theatre emerge with credit, Directors Nathan Chapman and Damon Wakelin play it blessedly straight, with unobtrusively modern dress and a spartan set making clever use of a single piece of furniture as a throne, stocks and hovel. The effect is to throw the major issues of family and foolery, pride and degradation into sharp focus - with the help of several individual performances of striking quality.

Peter Corrigan plays Lear with courage and bravura. Just occasionally his speech seems mannered but he knows when to bellow and when to whisper, and encompasses the character's majesty, wrath, humiliation and madness. No less impressive are David Penrose as the bitterly wise Fool, utterly relaxed in his cavorting, and Sally Hartley as Goneril. She not only speaks her lines beautifully but shows how a glance or a sly smile can so the work of 100 words.

Also effective are Alan Welton's casually cruel Cornwall and John Scadding's Kent, whose unusual aggressiveness makes his final sad speech all the more touching. Much of the other characterisation is sketchy and the speaking dull, But the poetry and passion make their mark.

The News, 23rd April 1999

Production Photographs