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Fool disclosure - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Fool disclosure
Creation Theatre's King Lear
Saturday April 1st, BMW plant, Oxford

There was a Fool, of course, but this is not an April Fool: on sion_a's recommendation, addedentry and I persuaded bluedevi and juggzy to come with us and see Creation Theatre's production of King Lear in a car warehouse.

The main attraction for me at least was the venue, which certainly presented interesting challenges for staging and acting: a vast cavern of a room with a high ceiling, exposed pipes and wires all over the walls and ceiling, and no wings for actors to disappear into. In the first half, enclosures were curtained off with plastic sheeting to one side and to the rear of the 'stage' (a huge concrete block, its parallelogram shape cleverly designed to create an exaggerated illusion of perspective and depth); when the 'storm' broke, these fell away to allow Lear to be discovered behind the hindmost curtain, railing at the elements. The sheer distance from the audience (even without tricks of perspective) made him seem tiny, emphasising his powerlessness.

The removal of the 'offstage' enclosures effectively echoed the persistent motifs of stripping away that build up throughout the play: Lear sheds (voluntarily or otherwise) his daughters, his effects, his retinue, his clothes, and finally his sanity; Edgar discards clothes and semblance of sanity to play Tom o' Bedlam; Gloucester is stripped of his sons and his eyes. From this point on there could be no hiding-place for actors or characters; costume-changes and scene-changes alike had to happen in full view of the audience. Unfortunately, this left characters who 'died' on stage in a somewhat awkward position, and the problem was unsatisfactorily (for me) solved by the simple expedient of the actors slowly getting up and walking away in full view of the audience. On its own, this might have been unobtrusive, or perhaps stylised and solemn; but combined with the slow-motion falling (with 'dramatic' lighting changes) with which the deaths themselves were acted, it ended up feeling somewhat clumsy.

The thing that really let the production down, though, for me, was the incessant SHOUTING; it was as if, as soon as characters started going mad (and this happens fairly early on in Lear -- even, it could be argued, in the first scene...) the volume control was turned up to eleven ... and stayed there. In a normal venue this would have been merely a bit wearing; in a huge, echoing chamber it rendered vast portions of Lear's lines indecipherable, and I'm not sure how much I would have followed without prior knowledge of the play. Add to the shouting a frankly absurd amount of deranged capering (from Lear, Edgar, and the Fool) and high-heeled running (from appropriately power-suited Goneril and Regan), and the noise really started to drown the signal.

There were still some excellent moments: the opening scene in which Lear, in full military regalia, is wheeled onstage, standing upright on a trolley (a device which is effectively echoed later when, his wits and life ebbing away from him, he is pushed onstage in a wheelchair); the Reservoir Dogs-esque blinding of Gloucester (complete with Dean Martin backing track and the rather gruesome use of a stiletto-heeled shoe); Kent's torrent of insults to Oswald while the latter (played as bespectacled, prim and pedantic) tries to escape on a bicycle -- making the scene somewhat reminiscent of Cambridge road rage... But the completeness and coherence of individual moments only made the play as a whole seem more bitty, more awkward in its transitions.

A. C. Bradley argues, in his Shakespearean Tragedy, that the fault lies with the play itself; that it is impossible to stage well, that because Shakespeare's writing transcends drama the staging is, necessarily, something less than a coherent drama. This seems like the sort of backhanded compliment that a dramatist would hardly welcome, but may serve as an excuse for director and actors: over all, then, an interesting but flawed attempt to stage a notoriously difficult play.

And, of course, it could have been much worse. They could have used the happy ending.

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Comments
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: April 4th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
In the first half, enclosures were curtained off with plastic sheeting to one side and to the rear of the 'stage' (a huge concrete block, its parallelogram shape cleverly designed to create an exaggerated illusion of perspective and depth); when the 'storm' broke, these fell away to allow Lear to be discovered behind the hindmost curtain, railing at the elements.

Oh, interesting. That reminds me of the Gravy Bath Tempest I saw last summer, which did beautiful things with space; I kind of wrote that up and it got too long to post, but I shall mail it you while I think of it.
lnr From: lnr Date: April 4th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the Wikipedia link. It never occurred to me to look for that sort of thing there.
juggzy From: juggzy Date: April 4th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought that there was a happy ending? They all went to heaven, didn't they?
verlaine From: verlaine Date: April 4th, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lear was pre-Christian, sadly...
juggzy From: juggzy Date: April 5th, 2006 07:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, yes, I know that, but while sticking faithfully to the traditions - the girl who was pretending to be a boy pretending to be the girl Cordelia, later also pretends to be a boy again in the form of the Fool - at the end, they all went off through the back door while the sounds of tweetering, small children crying, and various other emotionally charged ambiguities circled all around us, and it was clearly heaven that the tribe of Lear was ending up in. Or something like that. A pagan heaven, maybe. Even pagans have heaven, you know. Muslims certainly do.
bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: April 5th, 2006 12:40 am (UTC) (Link)
the slow-motion falling (with 'dramatic' lighting changes) with which the deaths themselves were acted

Oh lord, I'd forgotten about this, but it was pretty jarring for me. I thought they were trying to do The Matrix. King Lear in bullet time!
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