Inamoment Theatre present Frank Bramwell’s 5th Shakespearean sequel. King Lear (alone) removes twenty-nine characters, leaving the titular monarch to tell his own story upon hearing of the death of Cordelia. The play is a psychological journey into Lear’s thoughts at the end of the play and asks Albany’s concluding line to the audience ‘Is this the just end?’.
We enter the theatre to see Bob Young as Lear, lying limply on the stage. The set is bare save for a few black boxes; a deathly white tree, a doll hanging ominously from its branches with the long flowing locks of Cordelia; a few candles; and a jester puppet who has had his eyes plucked from his head in the same manner Gloucester was tortured in the Bard’s original. This all adds up to an atmosphere which permeates the room.
Through the course of play we see that ‘the time is out of joint’ indeed, as Lear opens his hour-long monologue with the famous ‘Blow winds/crack your cheeks!’ exclamation from Act 3 Scene 2, before describing his overwhelming pain with a line from his opening speech. Lear describes how he is now going to ‘Unburthen’d crawl towards death’, which is repeated throughout the play. Lear shows regret for his actions, but more so over the actions against him. Bramwell draws attention to Lear’s lack of accountability while simultaneously showing the audience the parts of the story where he sealed his own fate. Lear’s insistence that he is a man ‘more sinned against than sinning’, over and over again was a brave choice by the writer. King Lear (alone) does not fall into the trap of bringing us wholly onto the King’s side. It shows the audience that, although he is the ultimate in Shakespeare’s sympathetic characters, he was far from the flawless and God-anointed ruler which he saw himself to be.
The play does wander a little at times, and it is often unclear as to why the playwright has decided to allow us into certain thoughts. With its admirable, but rather confusing, non-chronological use of the source material, a clearer direction and overall purpose to the pay would have steered the narrative forward and helped to absorb the audience into Lear’s physiological progression.
However there were moments of beauty and theatrical craft which must be noted. Lear’s interactions with the two dolls onstage were both absurd and heart-breaking, and Young totally brought these objects alive on stage with his interactions with them. The use of lighting to demonstrate Lear’s memories of encounters with Regan and Gonerill were also very clever and brought the daughters into the space with him.
Young’s performance in general was a powerhouse. I left in no doubt that for the hour he spent on the Lion and Unicorn stage he was Lear. Every action, every word, every thought was Lear’s. His voice was strong and powerful and his emotional range was completely believable. He used the stage well without wandering aimlessly and interacted so naturally with characters that weren’t really there.
I left the theatre feeling like I’d been exposed to a flawed individual at their most honest – and that honesty is something as terrifying, courageous and honourable as ruling a nation. To say that this play ‘is everything, tis a lie’. Yet the outstanding performance of Bob Young and Bramwell’s truthful presentation of humanity was well worth the watch.