'Lear' review or 'Mother daughter bonding.'

Lear, Union Theatre
11th June 2014
Written for Time Out

What if King Lear were a woman? Writer and director Phil Wilmott has cast Ursula Mohan as Lear – Queen Lear, if you will. Mohan plays Lear as a vulnerable old woman, possibly with dementia. She wears sparkly cocktail dresses and holds fancy soirĂ©es at court and as the madness sets in, Lear wanders around in a floaty pink nightie. It isn’t the most thundering Lear I have seen but it is a tender and moving production.   

Wilmott has split his ‘Queen’ Lear into three parts, each with distinct staging. In the first act the audience stays standing as Lear, clutching her handbag, divides her kingdom among her daughters. The actors weave among us and Lear whispers in our ears: ‘Does any here know me?’

The next act is set in the wilderness, with the audience seated. This is the weakest section and the acting, which is uneven, feels exposed. Some of the cast struggle to be heard above the moaning wind and the big set numbers, such as Lear’s storm scene, fall flat. There is an intimacy about Wilmott’s production that doesn’t match up well with this brutal middle act. 

Following a second interval (what a momentum breaker!), the audience is seated around a huge war-cabinet table. The actors sit next to us or clamber on to the table above. It’s a thrill to watch Mohan’s wrenching performance up close. Cordelia’s death feels agonising when witnessed by her mother and that awful line – ‘O, you are men of stones’ – hits harder still when uttered by a woman.


Popular Posts