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Lear – the Director’s Preview

Director Bex Law introduces her new interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which opens on Tuesday 22 October.

This is the second big play you’ve directed this year – that’s quite a challenge?

Lear is an epic story with many layers and complex characters, and some incredibly entertaining and moving set-pieces. I love a challenge, and this production certainly fits the bill. Lear has always been one of my favourites – I’ve studied it in depth and seen various versions over the years, and it’s one of those plays I don’t think you can ever quite get to the bottom of, so directing it seemed like it’d be a good adventure.

The last show that I directed for SLT was the Restoration comedy She Ventures and He Wins, which also had a large cast and a knotty plot, and I enjoyed working with a diverse range of actors to tell a compelling story. The Lear cast comprises a similarly gorgeous bunch of people, and I’ve loved getting to know them all and watching them create this world together. We’ve also been having a lot of fun in the rehearsal room, creatively insulting and murdering each other.

Why a female Lear and non gender-specific casting?

Casting a woman as Lear is not particularly revolutionary – it’s been done before to great effect, for example with Glenda Jackson – but I wanted to explore how this changed the relationships in the play, as well as giving more fantastic actors the opportunity to dig into some of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. The relationships between a mother and her daughters are definitely seen in a different light, and there are echoes of Lear versus Mother Nature that have become more resonant. There are several parts that have been cast non-traditionally, and aside from having to change a few pronouns for narrative clarity, I like that it the characters are simply who they are, regardless of the gender politics.

Michelle Terry, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, said it much better than I can in this quote from an article in The Stage:

“Shakespeare had an interest in human beings … A healthier way of looking at his work [is] to think what type of human being is this, as opposed to whether they are male or female. The plays are much bigger and multitudinous than that.”

Click images to enlarge

What have been the biggest challenges in interpreting and of course editing the text?

The play as originally written is obviously a stone-cold classic, but we’ve had to make cuts for obvious reasons – it’s very long! It was a challenge to balance the various character arcs and poetic moments whilst making sure the plot still held up, and always with a focus on making sure our audience are going to stay engaged. A small team of us looked at various versions and trimmed round the edges to make sure the plot is front and centre, driving it forward with an increased sense of urgency. There are a lot of moments that are completely beautiful and poetic that we’ve kept, but they had to earn their place.

How do you think the play might still resonate with a modern audience?

The themes in Lear that feel particularly resonant currently are the tension between humanity and nature as seen in the already alarming effects of the climate emergency, and the division of a kingdom plus conflict with the continent (let’s not utter the B****t word!). Lear’s Britain is in turmoil, with an uncertain future and an ageing monarch. Let’s just say the timing felt right!

Do come along and immerse yourself in the world of Lear – there really is something for everyone. And for those of you keeping count of the various seating and set configurations, this one is entirely new – and rather exciting!

Lear runs nightly from 22 – 26 October at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.

Rehearsal images by Chris Vian-Smith