King Lear with Sheep

The bard gets replaced by the baaard in Missouri Williams’ eccentric production King Lear With Sheep at The Courtyard Theatre. However, whilst there’s plenty of sheep thrills in this ewe-nique premise, its short running time and lack of ideas beyond the main concept mean that it doesn’t quite bleat the competition.

Cordelia is taking a dainty dump in a sparkly cape and Edmund is bleating at the Earl of Gloucester.

Alasdair Saksena’s Director greets us at the start of the performance, looking just a tad sheepish. His farmyard cast – from Shetlands to Whitefaced Woodlands – are apparently late. We wait in anticipation for the main event. Will there be any sheep at all, or is it just one big joke?

Of course it’s just a ploy and the herd do all enter the “stage”, fitted out as an actual sheep pen. Let’s make it clear, there are real, live sheep in this performance. Sheep wearing tiny crowns, ruffs and robes. As Saksena tries to rally his cast into their roles, Cordelia is taking a dainty dump in a sparkly cape and Edmund is bleating at the Earl of Gloucester.

It’s a spectacle that is at times deeply hilarious in its absurdity. Lea Dalisser, Lolita DS Valeera and Emily McCarthy have captured the bizarre concept well with their cute costumes – the horned King Lear’s tall crown particularly amusing in its grandness. As the cast remain entirely silent and indifferent to Saksena’s demands whilst he towers above them swearing and fuming, our Director begins to act out scenes from the play all by himself – of course using lambic pentameter.

But whilst Saksena gives the one man Shakespeare thing his all, it soon begins to feel slightly stretched, even at the half hour mark. Although watching a sheep in a tiny crown never gets tiring, the attempts to turn the production into something - dare I say - a bit meatier, falls down. With an initial concept as out there as this Saksena is forced to try and outdo himself in energy levels alone, replicating the madness of Lear but also highlighting the lack of anywhere else for the play to go after revealing its big gimmick.

Whilst not quite the new fleece of life some might be hoping for then, Williams’ production is still a breath of (slightly manured) fresh air in this strange harmony of animal and man onstage. Saksena may take the only bow of the night, but you can be sure he exits pursued by a sheep. 

Reviews by Laura Cress

The Courtyard

King Lear with Sheep

★★★
Soho Theatre

Bears in Space

★★★★
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

Twelfth Night

★★★★
International Anthony Burgess Foundation / Underground Venues

After Party

★★★★
Arcola Theatre

Clarion

★★★

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The Blurb

...A stubborn director is trying to put on a production of King Lear with a cast composed solely of sheep. As expected, his actors are both silent and mutinous. Much chaos ensues. King Lear with Sheep is an experimental re-evaluation of its famous predecessor that overturns theatrical conventions through the startling and revolutionary device of costumed sheep.

Sheep! In tiny costumes!

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