Queen Lear

Queen Lear is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Lear story from the perspective of his queen, confined in her chamber while pregnant with his expected male heir. The queen, her serving woman, Ursula, and the physician, Father Lawrence, take turns telling each other and us tales from their pasts as the queen slowly sickens. The play is determined to deal with the female question but it does this with just a bit too much polemic for it to really fly.

The scriptwriting is lyrical, drawing on Shakespearean language as its inspiration but possessing a style of its own that stops it from becoming too stilted.

Expect discussion of men’s violence and cruelty, pleas for the recognition of motherhood and a small touch upon one of Shakespeare’s favourite topics, swapping gender identity (though this last is somewhat random in this case). There’s also talk of free will and guilt, with an interesting resonance between a woman’s lack of choices in Lear’s time and the madness that we are told King Lear chooses – though this, like other things in the play, is not pushed far enough, and too often there is no outside perspective or conflict among these characters for any of their discussions to go more than skin deep. Lear, for example, never appears, but is mostly talked about in terms of his bestiality and cruelty to his wife. There are moments when this can be both poignant and political—such as when the queen remembers her courtship to Lear and dwells on what his hands looked like—but by and large the emotional and the polemical form an uneasy mix.

The actors are all very able, with Alice Allemano as the queen being a particularly strong lead as she hovers between delirium and reality. The scriptwriting is lyrical, drawing on Shakespearean language as its inspiration but possessing a style of its own that stops it from becoming too stilted. It is often not quite as fluent and its images less forceful than those written by the Bard, though of course that’s a bit of an unfair comparison, despite the links between the two. While the queen’s pregnancy and pain do build to a narrative climax, made richer from the memories and secrets that have been uncovered between her and her attendants, overall this piece feels a bit too contrived and lacking in the contradictions that make people and plays so fascinating. It could have been stronger with a little less telling and little more showing, and a little more nuance in the issues it deals with.

Reviews by Fiona Mossman

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Performances

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The Blurb

'No one will remember me; only killing makes history.' Enclosed in her chamber with her Confessor and her trusted Nurse, the Queen faces the ordeal of giving birth to the King's longed-for son and heir. Moving between reality and delirium, she fears for the survival of her child as she reveals the hidden story behind Lear and his ambitions. An intensely lyrical imagining of the untold story behind Lear's forgotten Queen. A powerful drama from Ronnie Dorsey, writer of A Fine Line, 'a gem of new writing' ***** (BroadwayBaby.com), and Of Sound Mind, 'utterly compelling' ***** (WhatsOnStage.com).

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