So this weekend, as the title suggests, we had a very Shakespearean experience! It started Friday night when we went to Stratford Upon Avon to watch the RSC’s performance of King Lear.
Oh My God! It was beyond incredible! Completely enchanting in a horribly melancholic way. My perfect night out! As Steve said on the way out, it is a bit wrong to say we enjoyed it as precious few characters were left standing in the end! But it has just become my favourite Shakespeare!
Granted, I didn’t have a vast amount to compare it to, I studied Midsummer Night’s Dream and Othello (my previous fave, and also VERY tragic) at school, and of course everyone knows Romeo and Juliet. I also once saw As You Like It one summer in Williamson Park, Lancaster, but I don’t actually remember it!! I had also never seen an RSC version. I am well and truly converted.
I read a synopsis before hand as, I am sure you will agree, following Shakespeare is not necessarily easy. For anyone who does not know the story of King Lear, this post will provide a little detail. The main thread of the play obviously surrounds Lear and his three Daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. As he is ageing he is proposing the split of his Kingdom three ways as their marriage dowries on his death. He ‘challenges’ them to explain how much they love him, the winner of which receiving the largest share of land. The youngest, the favourite and only unmarried, Cordelia, instead of pacifying her father, tells the truth that she will have to share her love with her future husband, unlike the two married sycophant sisters. Lear can only hear that she does not love him as much, so he sends her off in marriage to France, banished and out of his will.
But, as he ages, his mind weakens and fragility of his bones becomes a greater issue. Yet neither daughter will care for him, neither wants anything to do with a father loosing his mind. Lear gradually descends into madness, a dark and sinister madness that he only briefly recovers from before his death. In typical Shakespeare style, letters are sent, go missing and rumours spread, lovers spurned, brothers usurped, husbands outraged, everything possible to make the whole world turn against one another and against the poor King himself. His most devout servants, Gloucester, Kent, and the Fool suffer hideously through their attempts to support their monarch, and ultimately reach a suitably tragic end. There are a series of incredibly well woven threads, mixed and entwined, filled with suspicions and acts of ego and power, that culminate and unfold in one of the most heart wrenching scenes of realisation I think I have ever encountered.
Gregg Hicks played Lear, and did a remarkable job. The descent into madness was something to behold and he made it so real, so human and so very terrifying. The image shows Lear and his Fool (absolutely amazing performance!!) trapped in a storm where his ranting has started to become nonsensical and worrying. Kent and his Fool are desperately trying to find him shelter and safety, but he’s having none. At this point his mind has found a new agenda and from this point of only gets deeper and deeper into his own imagined wonderland.
Lear spends a good portion of the second half trying to loose his clothes! after seeing Poor Tom, the naked idiot (actually a brother on the run who has lost his mind, briefly, in fear). There is such a connection here, something so sympathetic and touching. The way they clung to one another and wrapped legs about each other on the floor, not in any inappropriate manner, but as if you were watching two lost children protect each other from the rest of the world. So incredibly sweet. The King, still aware of who he was, saw a kindred spirit in Tom that seemed to steady his downfall a little. Very gentle. Incredibly touching.
But one of the most touching moments was when Lear on the Heath was met again with his old friend Gloucester. Throughout his madness, Lear had failed to recognise people and represented all we fear in old age, made us think of those Grandparents and loved ones who had slowly lost their minds and succumbed to dementia. Gloucester was a friend beyond all others. Through twisted fate and misdemeanour, Regan’s husband tortured him, skewering out one eye and burning the other with a red hot poker, obviously leaving him blind. Yet he can still tell the King when he is in his presence, he holds him much like Poor Tom did in previous scenes, and begs the King answer if he knows who he is. Lear, at this point wearing trousers and a crown he has made himself from flowers and grasses, momentarily sees through the cloud of madness and despite all peculiar thoughts raging through his mind, can clearly see his friend. Before embracing this lost fellow, he simply says: “I know thee well enough, thy name is Gloucester.” The tears had already been flowing at this point, but on these words, these words that showed the good man, the sane King, still lurked beneath the shadow that had covered him, I let out quite a sob.
I will not tell the ending as the purpose of this post is not to recount, but to explain what a wonderful piece of theatre this was. It is quite uncomfortable at times, but necessarily so. This play shows all the hideous human defects at their most raw and devious, yet it also shows the simplicity of good, and the relief that human nature is not entirely selfish. It also, through the childlike demeanour of Lear, showed that power and greatness are not what is necessary to make us content; the friendships he held onto despite being insane, were so beautiful and enchanting, it showed the purity of life. However, in the end, deaths occur out of sadness, out of protection, out of jealousy and greed, and all in distress. I think we counted three still alive!! Exceptional.
Lear is on for most of the year, our tickets were £12 each – bargain! So click through the RSC link and book book book. You shall not be disappointed, depressed maybe, but elated you chose to go!!
And, just to put it into context, on Saturday night we went to the Hipodrome in Birmingham. Here was saw Birmingham University Law School’s am-dram performance of Twelfth Night, another play I had never seen. I was already for slating it to be honest as I am not a big fan of am-dram, but it was surprisingly good! And a very entertaining story line too, although I have to say I think I was more amused by how bloody slow the stage hands were!! I do believe thy added about another hour onto Shakespeare’s work. Again, as with Lear, one of the stand out characters was the Fool. Wonderful roles, played excellently (obviously this is relative considering one was professional) by women. Obviously not on a par with Friday night, but definitely the best version of Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen!!!
And the Midsummer comment in the title? Well, I have spent Sunday looking for a dress for Steve’s Law Ball in a couple of weeks. The theme? A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Darling!