Double Bill: Shakespeare's Queens & The Madness of King Lear

Double Bill: Shakespeare's Queens & The Madness of King LearLeft – Leof Kingsford-Smith and Lucas R Tsolakian (The Madness of King Lear). Photo – Stephen Dean.

From the electricity that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; two Australian productions were hand-picked to transfer their enthusiastically reviewed dramas to the theatres of the West End.

Situated in the heart of the West End, amongst the hustle and bustle of tired Londoners and transfixed tourist's sat a small theatre where an elegant sign announced the dwelling of two sought after productions.

A double bill of Shakespeare's Queens & The Madness of King Lear presented by CW Productions and Starlight Australia played at the Arts Theatre on a cold Saturday night in October.

The setting was as typically English as discovering the Queen in a red telephone box. Tea pots dipped in and out of teacups at tables in the foyer, whispers of arty tit-bits were passed among waiting audience members as the wind howled through the place each time the door was thrown open by the next shivering guest.

Peeling off coats and scarves the play began, the characters of Shakespeare's Queens took to the stage. It was a simple setting, just two chairs sitting on the stage. Two Queens entered as Shakespeare crawled down a set of ladders to the right hand side of the stage.

A bewildered Shakespeare enquired about where he might be, and how on earth he might be communicating with two dead Queens. That was it though; it wasn't Earth, or the dimension we know now. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots announced to Shakespeare that he too was indeed deceased, and that his new aspiration in the after-life should be to solve the two Queens' ever growing hatred of each other.

To do this Shakespeare played by Patrick Trumper takes the long lived debates of the queens into his own plays; his aim is for Elizabeth I played by Kath Perry, and Mary Queen of Scots played by Rachel Ferris, to analyse their own lives as powerful queens against the strong characters of queens Shakespeare created within his own plays.

Rachel Ferris and Kath Perry showed their flexibility as actresses as they dipped in and out of Shakespeare's Queens, performing each role as elegantly as the last.

The play, being an obvious success, was of course selected for transfer from Edinburgh to London, and was a pleasant piece to watch. As mentioned by my second ticket holder, the production would work incredibly well as a revision piece for children to watch before a pivotal Shakespeare exam. My own Shakespeare knowledge has never been tip-top and I wonder that if it had been, my concluding head nod regarding the piece might have been a little more enthusiastic.

One thing that I don't deny, and will quite literally nod my head eagerly towards, is the passion, intelligence and drive of the writer of the piece, Kath Perry, who also performed as Elizabeth I. Inside the programme for the production Perry delved into her creative motive. A well researched writer with a burning passion for all things Shakespearian, she talked about the absence of the female and their roles.

Perry's voice roars from the programme's pages as she writes about the actress who becomes one of two against seventeen men in a Shakespearian production. So what did she do next? She wrote a production that involved Shakespeare himself, his lines, his verse, and then dedicated it to the female role and female performer. 'Good on her' sprung to mind as I read the writers notes. A good old pat on the back doesn't seem quite adequate for a woman who's decided to revolutionise social expectation in the 1500's by resolving the problem in the 21st Century.

An enjoyable and interesting take on Shakespeare's work, a chance to experience excellent thinking, an insight into a great mind, Perry that is, not Shakespeare.

The second of the double bill promised to be a production of Shakespeare told through the medium of dance. I could only imagine what The Madness of King Lear could possibly entail narrated through movement, possibly the same kind of look I go for on a drunken night out when I replicate choreography from my current preferred girl band, an image beyond help or assistance.

But thankfully for the performers, the choreographers, the audience and of course Shakespeare, the production went beyond any juvenile assumptions I might have first giggled about.

The production of The Madness of King Lear focused on the aftermath of Shakespeare's own writing in King Lear the company set out to explore if Lear ever really recovered the fate of his own tragedy.

King Lear played by Leof Kingsford-Smith, was accompanied throughout the production by Fool, played by Lucas R. Tsolakian, a character that felt grief, pain and joy as Lear did. In Shakespeare's original, numerous characters play out the disastrous life of Lear, including his three daughters, a couple of Dukes and his fool. This new production only consists of the two, Lear and his Fool. A wise choice by the company, an effective and successful method, and the audience witnessed something beautiful played out by the duo.

My first assumption was that Fool played madness itself, Lear's own madness. It fed him fear, guilt, sadness and the odd dash of glee. It was a beautiful relationship, a sad and traumatic journey felt for both Lear and what I thought to be the characterisation of madness. It seemed the two represented the bond between the human and the intrusion of tempestuous mental health, a neglect, a denial of madness as the ability to recognise oneself without it seems unfeasible but essential.

This in fact was almost the case; the relationship was one of neglect, of denial, and of love due to the unfeasibility of recognising oneself without the other companion. The Fool did not just play himself; he also took the role of spiritual guide, leading Lear through memories of rejection caused by his own three daughters.

Both Leof Kingsford-Smith and Lucas R. Tsolakian played the challenging roles of Lear and Fool without fault. Bursts of laughter flew out from audience members when Fool, played by Tsolakian, pranced around the stage after Lear.

Tsolakian is an excellent all-round performer; Kingsford-Smith a moving, authentic King Lear.

The Madness of King Lear is a production that haunts its audience until the next day arrives; its actors a pair that deserve recognition beyond their present accomplishments; maybe a trip around the world once again to familiarise strangers with a refreshing high standard of work and performance.

CW Productions and Starlight Australia present
Double Bill: Shakespeare's Queens & The Madness of King Lear

Venue: The Arts Theatre - London West End
Dates: 16 October - 3 November, 2012
Times: Mon - Sat 7.30pm | Thu & Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets: £16.50 - £28.50

School Bookings via phone only – 020 7836 8463

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