Review: LEAR'S SHADOW, Jack Studio Theatre

Lear's lines shaken all about as he loses his mind, blind to his foolishness

By: Feb. 16, 2024
Review: LEAR'S SHADOW, Jack Studio Theatre
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Review: LEAR'S SHADOW, Jack Studio Theatre Conceived in those fever dreamy days of lockdown when Zoom both constrained and released the creative spirit, Lear’s Shadow is a one-man mash-up of the ramblings of the foolish King (and there proved to be a few of those around that time didn’t there?) The words we hear are Shakespeare’s, albeit re-ordered and re-contextualised, but the monologue largely tracks the play’s plot from the catastrophic division of the kingdom through to its tragic denouement. You probably don’t need to know the play, but I’d suggest Wikipedia might be worth a look the night before.

We open on Colin Hurley shambling on to the stage, dressed in rags, beard scraggly, looking very much like he’s been out all night in Greenwich Park during a storm. Speaking lines not quite at random, he’s soon demanding love from audience members co-opted as his three doomed daughters and represented by scarves. The trouble starts when Cordelia stands up to his preposterous need for affirmation and Lear himself descends into madness, blinded by hubris.

Review: LEAR'S SHADOW, Jack Studio Theatre

There’s something in this for the right here, right now. This Lear has quite a lot of Trump in him and there’s a thin-skinned man in 10 Downing Street right now, but both the beauty of Shakespeare’s verse and the opportunity to draw such parallels are somewhat buried under a presentation that overdoes the ranting at the expense of nuance. We’re not that far away in this most intimate of theatres and, while one understands the requirement to illustrate the descent into full-blown psychosis with just the occasional raft of rationality breaking through the darkness, it’s a gruelling watch. Pathos is seldom done best at full volume.

At 70 minutes all-through and with a welcome anachronistic introduction of voices off via a phone and a super evocation of thunder and lightning that gets us involved, it would be unfair to claim that the show outstays its welcome. But one feels that Hurley’s undoubted craft and palpable sympathy for the character never penetrate the carapace of madness that overwhelms Lear’s humanity. Perhaps a Fool (who makes a fleeting appearance in this version with red nose - natch) might whisper a word of advice to dial it back a little - less, as is so often the case, would prove to be more.       

Lear’s Shadow at the Jack Studio Theatre until 24 February

Photo images: Janet Baker