Lear's Daughters

It’s tempting to say that Lear’s Daughters feels like two different plays. We are told that the performance uses the original text and live music to present Shakespeare’s tragedy in a new light. The setting, in the round, shows a contemporary setting with a basic table and chairs at the centre, with plenty of wine bottles dotted about. Before the play opens, we are in an emotional soundscape which permeates the performance. This is created solely through the vocal backdrop of singer Sophie Grant, whose rich, slightly husky voice powerfully punctuates the drama.

With their creative use of space, strong individual characterisation, and in the bold re-working of a text, this work should send an audience away desperate to grab a copy of King Lear and read it with very different eyes.

Beginning with a medley of tunes sung only with the accompaniment of the singer’s hands slapping the floorboards (a recurring device that adds to the aural effect) we go from I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas to Singing in the Rain. The choice of music is strange, almost alienating, but so is the other aspect of this complex drama: the presentation of King Lear without its eponymous character. Next, we are introduced to Lear’s three daughters: a strident, confident Goneril, (Charlotte Quinney) the scheming Regan (Kim Jarvis) and a vulnerable Cordelia (Olivia Emden) who each deliver sections of original script with barely a slip.

The basic premise of the play--Lear dividing his inheritance between his daughters according to how much they love him--is introduced. With the absence of all the political machinations of the full text, not to mention Lear himself, who is simply represented by an empty wheelchair, the drama is open to interpretation. – or confusion. This could be seen as a flaw, but a piece of work that puts three of Shakespeare’s most powerful women at the centre is a bold idea. The vocalist, who drifts on and off stage, plays a mysterious character who alludes to various roles. But ,her presence is ghostly rather than dramatic, since she has no dialogue.

If we ignore the King Lear aspect, however, and take this as a contemporary story of three feuding sisters, this is a haunting, alarming, and moving piece of drama. In the middle of the play, the ensemble joins in a rendition of The Wailin' Jennys’ song, Storm Coming, an evocative portrayal of the storm from Act 2 of King Lear, performed a capella with percussion from mugs and tapping rings on the side of a wine glass, all of which falls apart rhythmically at the end as the voices, moaning and plaintive, fade.

This impressive vocal centerpiece, with its emotionally charged harmony, superb blend of four voices, and mesmeric effect would have me return to hear the performance more than once and left me wanting more. Sadly, the epilogue was the weakest piece of delivery, but this is a minor quibble since the cast were equals in strength of performance. With their creative use of space, strong individual characterisation, and in the bold re-working of a text, this work should send an audience away desperate to grab a copy of King Lear and read it with very different eyes. 

Reviews by J. A. Sutherland

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The Blurb

A play made famous by its protagonist, which also boasts three of Shakespeare's most fascinating women. What does the story look like when you see it through their eyes? Through original text and live music, this bold retelling of King Lear will present Shakespeare’s tragedy in a new light. Follow three daughters on a disorienting journey through a landscape that is riddled with alienation and domestic heartbreak. Lear’s Daughters brings you a play about family, where the King himself is at once centre stage, and nowhere to be seen.

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