We’ve had Reduced Shakespeare, tweeted Shakespeare, and now the latest attempt at shortening the bard is lunchtime Shakespeare. At 1pm, for 45 minutes, you can watch the epic tragedy of King Lear. Bobby Fincher may have heavily abridged the text, but it still remains an enthralling story.
King Lear tells the tale of political power struggles, divided kingdoms, and hierarchies. At the heart of the play, and what this edit chooses to focus on, is the ageing Lear and his relationship with his three daughters. Director Rafe Beckley takes us to the swinging sixties, The Who’s My Generation opens the play and other rock songs continue to act as a soundtrack to the show. The language remains Shakespearean but the setting is modern, at one point Lear is even standing at a platform in Euston waiting for a train. The period’s costumes are excellent with the daughters wearing flowery dresses, knee high boots, beehive hair, and winged eye make up. The reasons for setting the play in this decade, however, could have been more fully explored.
Three actors cleverly play Lear: the first when he is angry with his daughters, the second when he descends into madness, and the last when he reconciles with Cordelia. The Lears, in particular James Sutherland, create powerful moments. The transition from each Lear is done smoothly, each one wear the same professor-like elbow patched suit, whilst the man inside it changes. Whilst the play is called King Lear and His Daughters, it is the portrayal of his madness that stands out. When the storm descends on the little stage it feels mightier with crashing wave sounds, torch-lights, and a lone Lear.
There are no new insights into the play. The doubling up of Suzanne Kendall playing Cordelia and the Fool, two people who are close to Lear is an interesting choice, but more could have been made of it. The Fool also gives us no laughs, instead this is a quick-paced, serious, and intense 45 minutes. So when we arrive to the most dramatic moment, Cordelia’s death, it feels rushed rather than poignant. It is the shortage of time that makes it difficult to develop a bond with the characters. Bite-size Shakespeare that leaves you hungry for more.
Runs till 19 September.
To see or not to see: * * *