Shakespeare’s king takes a back seat in Lear’s Daughters, a new production by Footfall Theatre at the Hope Theatre in Islington. The intimate studio theatre serves to make this an intense play, which focuses on the three women and their relationships with each other. A modern domestic setting and contemporary set both suggest to the audience this is a story that is both relevant and relatable. Here the all-female company takes Shakespeare’s original text and makes it feel modern. As the audience enters, the three sisters are playing cards while the Fool looks on and sings quietly. An unoccupied wheelchair stands in for the absent Lear. Then, with a sudden change to bright lights, the play begins with a rapid pace that doesn’t let up.
Having studied the text previously, I was interested to see how this production would interpret Shakespeare’s dialogue. The play follows the original story, but in a way that sees the women making the decisions and speaking the lines of the male characters in addition to their own. The all-female cast means that a play which traditionally focuses on the male characters sees the women take centre stage instead. Goneril (Charlotte Quinney) is high-spirited and quick tempered from the beginning, while Regan (Kimberly Jarvis) is calmer and more composed than her elder sister. However, as the story unfolds the dynamics between the two sisters change until the play’s eventual conclusion. Of the three sisters, I found Cordelia (Olivia Emden) the most interesting. In Shakespeare’s text she is absent for a large part of the play. However, in this interpretation she has a far greater presence. Challenging her sisters, she defends their father and questions their actions.
One of the most powerful and dramatic moments is the blinding of Gloucester, with the Fool taking his place here. It’s a brutal and brilliantly performed part of the play, but also one that leaves the audience unable to look away even as Regan seems to take pleasure in what she is doing. Regan’s gradual shift from calm observer to violent torturer is a contrast to her sister’s own development. It is Goneril who wants to go after their father into the storm, and Regan who stops her, in a reversal of their previous relationship.
Footfall’s production shows that modernising texts is not simply about changing them for a modern audience. Instead, as they say, it’s about finding ways to “tackle the imbalance of male and female characters” as this production does. The use of a contemporary setting shows that the situation here of grown-up children and an ageing father is one that is equally relevant today. Lear’s Daughters is a powerful piece of theatre that manages to be equally emotional and intense throughout. It’s one of the most striking and innovative interpretations of Shakespeare that I’ve seen.
Review by Amanda Blake
Christmas at the Lears’, 2014. King Lear is a play made famous by its eponymous hero, but it also boasts three of Shakespeare’s most fascinating women. Goneril, Cordelia and Regan now take centre stage in a reworking of the text that strips the piece of high politics to explore the domestic struggle at the heart of this tragic tale.
Combining live music with Shakespeare’s original text, Lear’s Daughters follows three sisters as they struggle to look after their ailing father whilst asserting themselves in what was once a man’s world.
“We are his flesh, his blood, his daughters – or rather a disease that’s in his flesh, that I must needs call mine”
Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe 2014, Footfall Theatre present their sell-out, award-winning reworking of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
Charlotte Quinney – Goneril
Kim Jarvis – Regan
Olivia Emden – Cordelia
Sophie Grant – Fool/Musician
Producer Jessie Anand
Director Isabelle Kettle
Designer Pippa Scarcliffe
Lighting Designers Isla Tyrrell, Ali Hunter
Footfall Theatre is an all-female company founded in 2014 by three Cambridge University graduates, who share a passion for Shakespeare’s texts and collaborative theatre. They believe in giving women a greater presence on stage, and thereby creating new plays that an audience can experience as modern, without losing the words and heart of the original texts.The company won an Owle Schreame Award for innovation in classical theatre following the Edinburgh run of Lear’s Daughters.
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street
London N1 1RL
9th December to 20th December 2014 at 7.45pm
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Sunday 14th December 2014