FRINGE REVIEW – Story Shakespeare, King Lear


 16-21 Aug (not 18) 1500 (1600) @ C too, Johnston Terrace

By Danielle Farrow

Story Shakespeare: King Lear is exactly that – a presentation of the story of King Lear, with modern narration setting scenes and explaining plot, and Shakespeare’s work drastically cut.
The presentation is highly skilled and earns the three stars. Part of this large company of actors play choral roles, while 13 take the named roles, swapping this around on alternate days. They are clad in blacks, with touches of white, and there is the occasional splash of enriching colour. Subtle lighting focuses attention and helps to create mood, and is used to good effect for the storm scene where the King loses his wits completely. Sound is also very effective, with sticks to create drumming also well used to set up the final battle, and the main highlights of this production are in the choral singing. The original compositions by Joseph Atkins are beautiful to the point of hair-raising and are very finely sung by the cast from varying places within the venue. There are also strong physical aspects and ideas, and welcome touches of humour.
This is, however, a production where what you want from it will really affect your enjoyment.
If you want a clear notion of the story of King Lear with just a taste of Shakespeare’s words, this could well be the show for you. That said, it does not really, as advertised, seem likely to ‘appeal to young and old alike’, for despite generally clear narration, it is uneven in how it treats its audience. Some explanations of what is happening are completely redundant as the action makes developments blatantly obvious. If this is for the ‘young’, then unsupported lines – where no action, dialogue or further explanation assists – should surely be more helpfully worded. For instance, at one point in clearing up the climax of all the action, we are very briefly told that someone has been ‘surreptitiously poisoned’. This is part of the problem of trying to cram so much into just 50 minutes.
If you go to a Shakespeare play in order to have his fascinating characters and rich language embodied on the stage, then this will prove a somewhat disappointing version of King Lear and is more a two-star show. The cuts reduce the story to the bare bones and the famous monologues and driving character clashes suffer hugely. Whether due to this or to the actors’ current abilities (this is the Year Out Drama Company for those about to attend further studies after school), none of Shakespeare’s characters are fully brought to believable life, despite some valiant attempts.
This production is worth seeing for the clarity of the story and for the production details, especially the use of sound and ensemble work – the company all strive for high standards and work together well in song and interesting physical routines. It is not, however, likely to draw people into Shakespeare’s language or make them really care about his characters.

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