Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Natasha Buckley
Reviewer: Helen Tope
Created to professional standards, productions from local company, The Actors Wheel, have everything except the Equity card.
Performed by students of Marjon University’s Acting programme, The Actors Wheel combines discipline and ambition in equal measure; taking on challenging work, and it’s safe to say, few plays possess the fearsome reputation of King Lear.
Shakespeare’s play, a musing on a parent’s love and a king’s duty, demands a great deal of its actors. Edmund, bastard son of courtier the Earl of Gloucester, must win the audience over with his sly charm. Played here by Samater Ahmed, Edmund is the angry young man personified. But Ahmed smartly concentrates on Edmund’s easy ability to manipulate the world around him. Confident and taking his time with the verse, Ahmed isn’t afraid to look the audience in the eye – and gives the production real depth and dimension.
The production isn’t afraid to cast creatively, with the role of Lear performed by Kadin Uzzell. As mother and landowner, she carves up her property between her voracious daughters, Goneril and Regan. The parent/child dynamic becomes twisted, as Goneril and Regan set about turning their patch of land into their own hedonistic, debauched kingdom. Realising that her daughters are conspiring against her, Lear has no choice but to leave for Dover and safety, with her loyal servant Kent (Morgan Cusack) and Fool (a suitably quirky Georgia Bray).
The decision to give a male character to a female actor has, of course, been done before and with great success. The recent production of Twelfth Night from the National Theatre made several switches, not least casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia. When done with integrity, this process does work – Shakespeare is nothing if not flexible. The Actors Wheel, in making Lear a mother rather than a father, rather brilliantly gives us the opportunity to explore the parent/child relationship from another angle. In the unconditional love given by her youngest daughter, Cordelia, Lear finds redemption. In the final scenes, where Cordelia (Susannah Light) has been hanged by Edmund’s order, Uzzell’s distress is utterly convincing. The depiction of a mother’s grief is the best moment of this production; raw, honest and desperate.
The backdrop to the play – a gritty, industrialised landscape alongside a wardrobe of grease-monkey overalls and leather jackets – makes this production more reminiscent of Sons of Anarchy than classic Shakespeare, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The scenes featuring Goneril and Regan are highly effective; the blonde, tattooed sisters raising the bar in sibling rivalry. Emily Marsh, playing Goneril, isn’t afraid to be provocative either. Marsh is a real presence on stage and her fearlessness bodes well for her career.
Trusting your instincts is something that comes with time, and it’s in the gaps where this doesn’t happen that you are reminded that you are watching students, not yet professionals. Volume does not always equal intensity, and there’s value in letting the words speak for themselves. For any company performing Shakespeare, there is an acknowledgement that much of the hard work has already been done for you. The story has already been told – how you interpret it – that’s the game. With their brave adaptation of King Lear, The Actors Wheel have proved themselves ahead of many of their professional counterparts. Taking risks is where (successful) Shakespeare productions operate, and this King Lear may be edgy, but with the commitment of its talent, the gamble pays off.
Reviewed on Saturday 27 May 2017 | Image: Daniel Grindrod