A five-star Shakespeare show under the stars in the grounds of Liverpool's historic mansion house in Calderstones Park
Absolute power may corrupt absolutely but it certainly makes for a great story.
King Lear is Shakespeare's grandest tragedy and this was a triumphant telling of the timeless tale by the touring Globe Theatre company to mark the reopening of the outdoor space in the grounds of Calderstones Mansion House.
The play concerns life's essential elements – the nature of man, love, family and mortality - and given the torrential storm that takes place midway through, the open air setting seemed highly appropriate.
The drama unfolds on a two-storey wooden stage, every inch of which was exploited by the eight-strong cast who stroll among the audience before the show begins, engaging in playful banter and sizing up their crowd.
The overall effect was an accessible King Lear in which resounding themes and believable, well-constructed characters come to the fore.
Joseph Marcell is perhaps best known for playing regal British butler Geoffrey in 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As Lear he takes up the part of genuine royalty and captures the monarch's descent from arrogance to anger and finally to anguish with a masterful performance, moving from cursing rage to piteous sorrow and covering everything in between.
His devilish daughters who ruthlessly exploit his fatal flaws through false flattery are also given impressive turns. Ruth Everett makes for a delightfully viperish Goneril, her scheming aided and abetted by the sickly sweet cunning of Shanaya Rafaat's Regan as the pair usurp Lear's power and plot his downfall – with dire consequences for all.
Bethan Cullinane skillfully handles the parts of both Cordelia, the honest sibling who is disowned by her father the king, and the Fool. Her relationship with Marcell is deeply felt, the eventual rekindling of their bond powerfully expressed. Likewise Oliver Boot excels in the twin roles of the dashing, deceiving Edmund and the camp, comic Oswald – even running across the stage to switch between his charges in the same scene.
Dickon Tyrrell portrays Kent with wit and vigour, adopting a convincing north east accent for his spell in disguise, while Matthew Romain entertains with boundless energy as both Edgar and his alter ego Poor Tom. Rawiri Paratene's bumbling Gloucester is giving a light touch before his fall, the gruesome episode where his eyes are gouged out – one thrown towards a gasping audience – a memorable highlight.
The choreography and swashbuckling sword fights were a joy to behold as the actors, faultless in their projection and execution of the script throughout what must be an exhausting two-and-a-half hour shift, did not miss a beat.
When Lear is banished into a dark tempest on the heath by his treacherous offspring, the whooshing and clanging of metal sheets backstage along with the billowing of a blood red curtain forcefully bring home the madness that is increasing its grip on him.
This production of King Lear has set the bar high for the new era of theatre in Calderstones Park but one thing is for sure - it is going to be a real treat sitting under the stars to see if anything can match it.