Sunday, May 19

Lear’s Shadow – Jack Studio Theatre

The pandemic was, of course, a disaster for theatres and those involved in the performance arts. But it is striking how many of those affected used their time to develop their creative skills and produce new work, which would otherwise possibly never have seen the light of day. One such is Lear’s Shadow devised and performed by Colin Hurley, and now performed in the Brockley Jack Theatre.

The Jack performance space is almost bare except for a round wooden table and a bench. Enter an old man with dishevelled hair and greying beard, dressed in a dressing gown and long johns, with bare feet. He carries a modern looking box full of his props. Although looking like a Lear, the programme notes make clear that this is not Lear: it is an actor very familiar with the Bard’s work wanting to spend time with Shakespeare’s words in a new context.

He takes  a range of props out of his box, which he uses inventively to tell parts of the story of King Lear, focusing particularly on his relationship with his three daughters, represented by different coloured scarves. There is also a considerable amount of dialogue with the Clown where he plays both parts, using a red nose to distinguish between the characters.

Hurley’s performance is a tour de force. Over the 70 minutes he is often ranting, apparently distracted and seemingly on the edge of madness or dementia. There is no one else involved in the production and no light or sound effects, but he does at one stage pull out a mobile phone which he links to a small remote speaker to play voices,  mainly those of his daughters. This was a high-risk strategy given the unpredictable nature of modern technology but on press night it worked perfectly. I hope he has a fallback for the inevitable night when it doesn’t work!

He engaged with the audience brilliantly, seeking their assistance in holding props and using instruments to create the sounds of the storm. If you sit in the front rows be aware that his eye may alight upon you. In these sections he was able to bring a degree of levity into what is otherwise, unavoidably, in places a dark portrayal of a great man at the end of his life.

To fully appreciate this production I think some knowledge of Shakespeare’s original would be required. I didn’t feel that the performance threw much new light on Shakespeare’s troubled King but is well worth watching.

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 15th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.