Lear's Daughters

Wed 30th July – Sat 16th August 2014


Georgina Wilson

at 18:21 on 8th Aug 2014



Lear’s Daughters looks damn good. A table nestles between two pillars in a narrow room at the bottom of C Nova, and everybody wears elegant clothing and drinks wine amid the candlelight and puffs of cigarette smoke that emanate from the end of Goneril’s cigarette.

This is, of course, a modernised version of Shakespeare’s tragedy; but more than that it is a hugely liberal re-working of the original. The renaissance text – or rather a portion of it than can be laced up into an hour’s slot at the Fringe – is hashed up and split between only the three sisters. This lends a bizarrely familiar-yet-strange atmosphere to the whole thing: it is Cordelia who laments “Oh fool I shall go mad” and Regan who sets the sinister phrase “all dark and comfortless” floating round the room after the blinding scene.

If you don’t know the play well, then naturally these precise moments of line displacement are less significant. In anti-elitist mode, I’d like to think this wouldn’t matter, but without a fairly strong grasp of the plot I think the whole thing would be slightly confusing.

A complete absence of most of the cast – including Lear, who is reduced to nothing more than a ghostly non-presence in a tarten wheel chair – throws an interesting light on male and female agency in the play. But when “Edmond” is simply a word spoken between two sisters, and the victim of the blinding scene is no Gloucester but a clinically dressed nurse who has no lines until the end of the play and spends most of the time wafting around singing increasingly irrelevant Christmas power ballads, then the innovation behind this production gets rather caught up in its limitations.

That said, the acting was very good. Cordelia (Olivier Emden) interacted beautifully and convincingly with the four-legged wheelable representation of her father. Goneril (Charlotte Quiney) was physically sharp and hard and elegant all at once, and engaged her sister Regan (Kim Jarvis) in a fight which was much more powerful and effective than most all-female on-stage disputes that I have seen.

Regan was initially softer and more languid than her sister, which brought full effect to the blinding scene. Here some kind of spark of anger expanded into a striking explosion of action - the blinding is achieved by spreading strawberry jam over the face and hair of the no-longer-pristinely-clean nurse. This is no slapstick but actually very effective; most of the audience shuddered.

Director Isabelle Kettle has taken on an ambitious task, and I’m not sure Lear’s Daughters totally resolves its bitty-ness into a cohesive whole. That said, the production is both an aesthetic experience and a new way into a Shakespearean classic.


Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 11:27 on 9th Aug 2014



This play is an innovative and experimental piece of theatre that combines classic Shakespearean language with the trappings of a modern home to great effect. The venue, an atmospheric cellar, all low ceilings and random pillars, creates the perfect setting for this dark exploration into the lives and story of King Lear’s three beloved daughters, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia.

It is dramatically ambitious, but executed very well. Its skill is shown through the details, such as the repeated use of wine bottles as props, which foreshadows the treacherous ending and gives the performance a depth and integrity that is astounding. It is an incredible and fresh adaptation of a very well known play, and the all-female cast and crew are definitely going to do great things in the future.

The addition of a musical element gives the performance an unexpected level of ambiance. Sophie Grant, who is a constant and at times unnerving presence on and around the stage, lends her amazing singing voice to create a background of creatively devised songs, which helps to make the tone of melancholy and weariness even more apparent.

Footfall Theatre Company uses this, interesting staging and bold lighting choices to support the performance. One of the most remarkable techniques they use is one particular prop, an empty wheelchair, to symbolise their dying father. For the most part they all interacted well with this, in a way that was convincing and moving, though at first it did seem like a very strange addition.

The juxtaposition of the language and the modern dress and set serves to create a connection between Shakespeare’s timeless classic and issues that are still relevant today, such as jealousy, familial relations, love and greed. The performance is peppered with comic moments, which makes the production more human and believable.

The fact that there is an audience on both sides means that, occasionally the action is obscured and not easily visible, which detracts from the overall effect. Despite standout performances from every single one of the actors, there are parts where the play is either difficult to understand, or drags slightly. I doubt that it would be of much interest to people who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, but it is not necessary to have a detailed knowledge of King Lear to understand and enjoy it. Definitely worth taking the time out of your day to see, this play is interesting, enjoyable and powerful.


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