Review: Lear, Union Theatre

“She’s there, and she is yours”

 
What if King Lear were a woman? One of the most fascinating aspects of Phil WIllmott’s version of Lear for the Union Theatre is the collection of responses, collated here in the programme, he received when posting this question on Facebook. It lays bare much about our theatrical culture and it speaks volumes that it has taken a fringe venue to make the move of making Lear a queen. Here Ursula Mohan steps into this most iconic of Shakespearean roles, in what proves to be a fascinating piece of theatre. 

An ambivalence of tone in the opening section suggests any number of interpretations might be at play in this modern day adaptation – manila folders suggest the division of a business empire rather than a kingdom, the fool’s green scrubs and readiness with a bottle of pills hints at institutionalisation, only the ever-present handbag feels like a determined (if cheeky) nod to regality. And this ambiguity gains real strength in the madness on the heath with its people sleeping rough under cardboard, shopping trollies full of junk being pushed around – the production feels powerful in this non-specific but definitely contemporary milieu. Continue reading “Review: Lear, Union Theatre”

Review: Fair Em, Union Theatre

“I never saw a harder favour’d slut”

The front of house hoarding that beckons you into the Union Theatre for Fair Em makes no less than three references to Shakespeare, but when a show’s main selling point is that it wasn’t in fact written by him, it sets an impossibly and unnecessarily high standard. It was misattributed to the bard by one of Charles II’s librarians and thus occupies a place in the Apocrypha where it has languished unproduced for over 400 years. But not even Phil Willmott’s normally sure touch can disguise the weaknesses of the play with a production that misfires on several levels.

The plot intertwines two love stories. First is well-to-do maiden Em who, when her father is banished by the new king, is forced to slum it as a miller’s daughter far from home and fends off the amorous attentions of the local suitors through feigning disabilities. And then there’s William the Conqueror, determined to claim Blanch, the Princess of Denmark for his wife but on finding she’s less comely than her portrait suggested, tries it on with her friend who is a Swedish princess and already entangled with the ambassador. Jealousies, deceptions and a lack of bread threaten the equilibrium of all as the play then gathers to a final scene of unparalleled unlikeliness. Continue reading “Review: Fair Em, Union Theatre”