“That was certainly the shortest Lear I’ve ever seen,” I overheard a patron say as I left the theatre on Friday. It was, and it was brilliant. All Lears should clock in at 80min (1hr35min with interval).
Most of the cuts were around Lear, the Fool and Kent. The highlights were still there, but not the endless moaning on the heath. The storm scene was extremely effective: a blue tarp stretched on stage, held at the edges by the cast, who vigorously shook it to create a tempestous space for Lear to wander in; halfway through, someone dumped a bucket of water into it, which bounced off the tarp for the rest of the scene, splashing Lear again and again, genuinely disorienting him and soaking him through. The Fool played piano and wore very enviable yellow wellies.
The daughters’ competition was a Pop Idol-style singing contest. Goneril and Regan were rewarded by a scoop of earth from Lear’s suitcase, which they held in the fronts of their dresses, mimicking pregnancy. Cordelia laughed with the Fool at the piano before singing. Her performance was a bit more punk rock, and she seemed to intend it as an affectionate joke.
Lear’s sexual dynamic with each of his daughters was really played up. The older two clearly knew Lear expected a sexy, ostentatious performance in their declarations of love, and in later scenes they appealed to him by flashing their legs and begging coquettishly. Lear angrily ripped off Goneril’s fur coat and stamped on it when he cursed her, both implicitly attacking her for spending excesses and removing her ability to cover herself. When he entered with Cordelia’s body in a shopping trolley, he kissed her full on the mouth, and she revived and kissed him back.
Edgar and Edmund were barely in it. Although I like both of them, I also liked the driving narrative energy that came from their story being cut. Edgar rolled around on the floor and smeared himself with poo, and Edmund’s “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” came through very clearly.
In Lear’s mad scene he smashed a (real) egg for each of his daughters on his head, a pleasingly female-oriented bit of reproductive symbolism. My “gosh, this is all very Avant Garde” impression of King John had nothing on this production.
I love the sisters in the play, like the Gloucester brothers and can take or leave just about everything else, so this super-cut production was my ideal Lear. It was snappy, weird, well-acted and unafraid of interesting choices – like all really great theatre.
Also, holy God there were a lot of naked men on that stage. (Cordelia’s boobs got a quick look-in, but nothing compared to the cock and bottom parade.) It was absolutely The Greatest Hits Of “King Lear” (Abridged), but it was quick, energetic and maniacally driven. I wasn’t complaining at all.
I saw Globe to Globe’s King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe on May 18, 2012.