Lear – Lazarus Theatre Company – Greenwich Theatre

This article was edited by the free weekly paper Greenwich Time and published on 4th June 2013. See the edited piece below, as well as the original article. Please note that this production was not all-female. Moreover, it is not my place to describe this production as the “best by far” – this was added by the editor.

LEAR

It has been a certain fashion recently to perform Shakespeare plays with female casts. The beauty of the bard’s texts is that they make this possible, without even having to change pronouns. Lazarus Theatre Company impressed us this month by staging one of the most memorable Shakespeare plays King Lear, taking out the word King and introducing a young female actress as the lead monarch. It was delightfully surprising how much feminine language King Lear actually holds and how simple verses can turn into flirtatious power relationships. It was indeed refreshing to observe this text on a new level of femininity. Lazarus Theatre Company like to re-imagine classical theatre for a modern audience, and certainly did not disappoint with Lear, part of a repertory including Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Director Ricky Dukes presented us with a thrilling atmosphere from the very first scenes: a heavy metal soundtrack, an ensemble singing melodies that were sure to announce trouble, and bright and explosive lighting and audio effects lent the text an entirely new rhythm and immersed us into Lear’s troubled fall.

The stage at Greenwich Theatre offers infinite setting possibilities. This is something that Lazarus embraced, as they displayed a very open and high stage, which offered us a glimpse of the wings and the various lighting devices. The ingenious lighting effects marked clear contrasts between public and private scenes, but were unfortunately weakened by the sometimes too strong amount of smoke around the stage and the first rows of the audience. What is more, some spotlights on particular characters were at times distracting when they did not succeed in lighting the actors’ faces sufficiently. This took some of their emotion away.

And what strong emotions there were! The lead Jennifer Shakesby was excellent as Lear among the otherwise very well chosen harmonious ensemble. Lucy Hagan-Walker was also very impressive as the cruel but beautiful daughter Gonerill. Lewis Davidson as Edmund and Harper James as Edgar also deserve special mentioning. While the company members were of more or less the same age, this did not break the illusion of the characters being of different generations.

We certainly hope to see more of Lazarus’ inspired productions, as only their kind of innovative direction has the power to haunt you all the way home.

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