Hands up anyone who was bored rigid by studying Shakespeare at school. If you’re one of those who couldn’t understand it, and never knew what was going on, this is the show for you. A one man version of King Lear. This production is about as far away from ‘trad and bad’ as you can get, and it’s brilliant. You don’t need to know – or even like – Shakespeare to enjoy this.
You don’t need to know – or even like – Shakespeare to enjoy this.
Enter Paul Morel dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, who proceeds to deliver the story as Lear’s loveable Irish Fool. To attempt to perform King Lear as a comedy is quite an ask, but Morel instantly has the audience in the palm of his hand. With only with a chair, a drum, a guitar and some notes for company on the stage, he proceeds to guide us through the story with easy Irish charm. The technique is simple: The Fool gradually introduces the characters to us, giving us the lowdown on their physicality and their personality before impersonating them with spot-on gestes and an appropriate accent that instantly signifies what sort of person they are. In Morel’s hands, characters are clearly defined. His range of accents and body shapes is large and impressive, allowing him to display his considerable comic acting talents: Oswald and the King of France are hysterical. We are in very, very safe hands here. Morel is hugely entertaining, a tremendous character actor, and has no problem remaining in complete control of the room.
There are some lovely theatrical, or meta-theatrical, jokes thrown in along the way. Having just embodied Lear seated in the chair, the Fool then picks up the guitar and sings a song to the King. Resting his foot on the chair in which the putative Lear is still sitting, he quips, 'It’s alright, he’s not there any more.' Morel’s Fool is situated inside and outside the play, allowing him to both inhabit and knowingly comment on the text in almost Dickensian fashion. Intelligently adapted by Morel and directed by John Mowat, the show is certainly accessible to those unfamiliar with the play. Not only are we regularly reminded of who is who, and why they are doing what they are doing, but we also get regular recaps and explanations of the story so far… No doubt this production will go down a storm with students reading King Lear for GCSE or A level.
Arguably, there isn’t enough actual Shakespeare in this King Lear. No long speeches and none of the poetry, which results in a loss of pathos. The story of an old man terrified of death and the waning of his powers, driven to madness (or vascular dementia?) by his hideous children here becomes a super-dark black comedy. And yet, the play closes with Lear cradling the guitar in his arms as if it is the dead Cordelia, delivering his final 'never never never…' speech with exquisite perfection. As we left the theatre a gentleman behind me exclaimed, 'what a talented man he is…' Yes, indeed. You don’t want to miss this.