King Lear with Sheep at the Courtyard Theatre

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Tonight I witnessed a first at the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton. A cast made up of one man and eight sheep for a version of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Never before have I seen actors relieve themselves so casually on stage. My excitement before the show was palpable and I was not let down.

A director waits for his late cast of sheep. Once the cast arrive, director Alasdair Saksena then descends into madness or, is he already there, as he tries to get his cast to perform the classic tale. Cordelia however has other plans and seems to have organised some sort of mutiny in which none of the sheep wants to perform. Instead Alasdair takes over the performance on his own whilst breaking out constantly to berate his woolly thespians for their lack of enthusiasm. He talks to Goneril at one point getting the low-down on the mutiny.

When he realises he is not going to get the performance he wanted, he eventually goes wholeheartedly for it, jumping in between characters as he has no choice but to try and do the play alone, performing much of the heath scene and Cordelia’s death.

There were fantastic costumes in this production: King Lear’s red cape and crown were a highlight, made more comic when another sheep tried to eat the crown. Cordelia too was dressed beautifully as were the rest of the cast. Looking at it in its entirety, this was the most bizarre show I have ever seen and highlights the range and variety of what theatre can be.

The only negative I felt was the running time, and those who know the Ginger Wig will know that problems with running times are generally compliments because it means we simply wanted more. Forty-five minutes was a bit short for us, but then maybe Cordelia had been strict in her contract negotiations in not doing a whole hour.

Regardless of that, something completely unique was witnessed tonight, something I may never see again in my life. Hats off to writer and director Missouri Williams for this once in a lifetime production of King Lear.

Highlight of the show – Alasdair performing as King Lear with a live sheep playing the dead Cordelia. Picture mourning actor with sheep in his arms –  “She’s as dead as the cold ground” – Sheep bleating and squirming throughout.

WIGS 4/5

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