Ursula Mohan’s Lear is the King’s widow in Phil Wilmott’s new production at the Union theatre that begs the question: “what if King Lear were a woman?”. In a stuffy and smoke-lit room, the audience is warned that ‘some of the immersive production is promenade’.
The first scene is set in a black tie event where Cordelia (Daisy Ward) gently plays the piano as her self-controlled stately mother announces handing down her kingdom in return for lavish words of endearment. The older sisters, Goneril (Claire Jeater) and Regan (Felicity Duncan) although, insincere and secret plotters could have been a bit more sinister. Yet, it is only within a matter of minutes before Lear looses her head and all logic is lost as she throws her younger teary-eyed daughter at Burgundy (Riley Madincea, who also plays Oswald) and France (Alexander Morelli).
The subplot between the illegitimate son, Edmund (Rikki Lawton) and the real son, Edgar (Tom McCarron) couldn’t have been showed in any neater form. Edmund is a spitting, in-your-face and rough-around-the-edges type of fella who reveals his bloody endeavours in a zany manner. Yet, Edgar is fooled by his half-brother’s antics and is spurred on to leave his fitness regime, of push ups and sit ups, and to hide away, ultimately becoming the naked beggar of bedlam. McCarron develops Edgar’s character from hitting rock bottom to become a stronger and more clear-minded ‘Tom’ towards the end – the polar opposite of Lear.
Standing has its perks particularly for getting close to the cast during the torture scene of Gloucester (Richard Derrington). The cocaine addict, Cornwall (Stephen Harakis) and Regan use cigarette butts and a spoon to pluck out Gloucester’s eyes and it’s just as juicy and gory as Shakespeare would have liked.
Madam Lear quickly becomes madder, hitting her head whilst asking members of the audience, ‘who am I? And ‘are you my daughter?’ It is an immediate sign of the bitter onslaught of dementia and her indecisive conscience. One moment she hugs Goneril, her sympathetic noble blood, and then hastily pushes her away calling her an ‘ungrateful hag.’ In the second part, her fool (Joseph Taylor), dressed in a NHS uniform, accompanies her through the rain with a trolley filled with a laundry bag. She is later hidden under brown cardboard boxes to denote her mental poverty and lack of royal sanity.
By the final part, a large table is brought in and the audience can get near to the action. A light cheesy saxophone plays a lady’s love song whilst Edmund asks himself which sister to pursue sexual liaison with. His violent struggle with France ends with a loud neck crack, having a domino effect on everyone else’s death, besides the awakened Edgar and bystander, Albany, confidently played by John Rayment.
Overall, the use of Lear’s widow has a more enamoured effect on the audience given the relationship subscribed to a mother and child. Yet, the intrigue of an interactive stage is an unnecessary gimmick. Often the audience spends half their time concentrating on the show and the other half trying to figure out where to stand to avoid a collision. Luckily in part two and three there’s opportunity to sit down.
Ends on the 28th June