King Lear with Sheep

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The Courtyard Theatre

25th September 2015

There’s a lot to like about this show, which does exactly what it says on the tin. And if what it says on the tin sounds like a drunken Fringe invention, or the result of a hideous printing accident involving Shakespeare and Dick King Smith, well, it’s always a good idea to stand out from the herd…

The basic premise is this – a director is on a long tour of King Lear, and on this particular night the cast are simply refusing to perform. The cast in question are sheep – at least they are to the audience, the director’s state of mind is left in more doubt… And as the cast continue to ignore him, the director gets more and more agitated, alternately performing whole scenes himself (especially the blinding of Gloucester) and exhorting his cast to speak up.

So the play hangs entirely on one man, and the comic timing of a flock of sheep. Not often you get to say that. It succeeded in no small part because sheep are naturally – well – sheepish, and because Alastair Saksena put extraordinary energy into playing a man demented. And the running time was kept down to a very trim 45 minutes – probably the maximum that the joke could be sustained for.

While I suspect it contained more actual Shakespeare than Shit-faced Shakespeare the night I went, it was still probably not enough for anyone unfamiliar with the plot of King Lear to have a clue what was meant to be going on. But then, it didn’t really matter how you end up with a man holding a (very much alive) sheep playing his dead daughter – all that matters is that sheep is clearly rolling its eyes at the whole thing, and you start to develop a sympathy for the hapless director (and possibly a lingering sheep-based paranoia that will not help with future hill-walking expeditions).

The only thing which marred the evening for me was the really excessive number of photo-takers. Photography may have been permitted, but it was constant and so annoying to be stuck behind a cloud of camera-phones. Still, a sheep in a glittery crown and pink cape is pretty much irresistible. Especially when it pees on-stage. Maybe next time they should leave out the token human?

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3 thoughts on “King Lear with Sheep

  1. Sounds weirdly wonderful, if not entirely a close adaptation of the Bard! Could be a messy night most nights, I’d imagine and how does he keep the ‘cast’ onstage? Are they penned in? (I was going to say, is their escape ‘Bard’, but that’s toooo awful.)

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      • Ha! Love a pun! They make you smile and groan at the same time – a fascinating human response. Yes, a mop, bucket and shovel handy at all times, I suspect.
        King Lear with Sheep reminds me of Black Adder Christmas Carol, where Baldrick has been to a Nativity play where the baby Jesus has to be played by a dog (becuase the high infant mortality rate has spirited away the original actor)- as are the sheep. Oh, no, I fancy watching it now!

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