Jo Emery’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play starts off with Lear as a CEO of a property development empire who is in the process of stepping down from his leading role and is dividing the business up between his three daughters. Before he does this though, he sets them a challenge to see how they can express their love for him. The two elder daughters give extremely flattering answers in praise of their father, but the youngest daughter, who actually loves him the most, remains silent as she cannot put into words the depth of feeling she has for her father. This greatly angers the king, and he banishes the youngest daughter and divides the business between the two eldest daughters.
As the narrative develops, we are introduced to more characters whose individual stories are woven into the whole; the various suitors of the daughters and their children; the alter-egos of the youngest daughter (the Fool) and the legitimate son of Gloucester (Poor Tom) and numerous others. As the story develops, we can see how greed and self-interest lead to tragic consequences for just about every member of the cast, the majority of whom come to what can only be described as a very sticky ending indeed, with a large number of them killed off by poisoning, stabbing, and suicide. The almost inevitable conclusion sees Lear himself on the brink of total madness and finally dying from grief at his favourite daughter’s passing.
The performance is staged with a very stark backdrop of a blank canvas screen, which is used to picture the scenes which swap between various country mansions which are the principal homes of the main characters. The storm on Hampstead Heath is particularly dramatic. The modernised idea of messages being exchanged by mobile phone rather than written manuscripts was novel.
The play says a lot about the flawed relationships that children have with their parents and the consequences of this. It also shows how personal greed inevitably leads to a tragic outcome.
Although this is a modern reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the text sticks very strongly to the original. All the cast were superb, and I particularly enjoyed Catherine Adams’ performance as the unpleasant Goneril, the eldest of Lear’s three daughters. After a while, she made you want to boo out loud every time she entered the stage! Cat Harper’s joint roles as Cordelia and especially as the Fool are also worthy of special mention, but as I have said, all the cast were excellent. Another thing I found useful was that the performance was able to be viewed with subtitles, which would make it easier to follow for those not familiar with the Bards’ use of language. https://tinyurl.com/53bm5vf8
Reviewer: David S Clarke.
Reviewed: 12th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★