No, I didn’t watch a performance of Act One’s King Lear at Fringe Festival Zoo venue whilst on acid. However, the characters seemed to be, an unusual adaptation of Lear “reset in post-apocalyptic Britain” with drug taking, tracksuits, guns and mobile phones. The result, I’m afraid, was discordant and puzzling confusing.
King Lear as well as other characters pretended to take and be on drugs. Was this why Lear goes mad? Was this adaptation a valid allusion to what is destined for Britain’s future leaders? Annoyingly none of these, and other issues, were fully developed or explained and left the audience confused.
Even the modernisation of the play was not fully realised. Some characters were wearing tracksuits, others old army uniforms, again with no clear rationale. Edmund is in a tracksuit talking colloquially, but brother Edgar is dressed more normally and doesn’t talk colloquially. Perhaps this is to highlight Edmund as an illegitimate son and a bad character. However, even though illegitimate surely he would still have the same upbringing as Edgar and hence a similar accent compared to this extreme contrast.
There were fist-fights and the occasional dagger but towards the end a gun is used. Why didn’t they all use guns from the beginning? Most of the characters are either part of a criminal gang or ex-policemen so should be able to get their hands on more than one pistol.
When Gloucester is shown Edgar’s fake letter they keep to Shakespeare’s script saying “letter”, but then Edmund gives Gloucester a mobile phone text instead. A simple tweaking of the script was all that was necessary. This lack of attention to detail is the difference between a good performance and a mediocre one.
The casting posed further questions. Some of the male characters were cast as females without explanation. Traditionally, the two ‘evil’ sisters (Goneril and Regan) have either been cast because they look similar or have been made to look similar through make up or costumes. In this version Regan and Cordelia looked similar with dark hair yet Goneril had blonde hair. Again one wonders why?
On the positive, the acting was of a good standard. The lead role of King Lear is a challenging one, famously played by such illustrious actors as Ian McKellen, Laurence Olivier, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Pryce. As Lear, James Davies delivered well; spoke confidently and although young (probably in his early/mid twenties) managed the character of an older man. The Fool was cast as a female which was novel, but worked well purely because Ellie Hepworth got into character well and was creepy. Edmund played by Lawrence Dixon would have given a great performance if he had spoken more clearly, too much shouting which showed his confidence but at the same time his lack of experience.
The overall idea to set it in the future was clever but was not sufficiently thought through. The actors generally delivered well, but the director’s adaptation confused the audience.