© Simon Kane
Globe to Globe: King Lear, Shakespeare's Globe (The Arts Desk)
Belarus Free Theatre stages Lear as post-Soviet Oedipal X-Factor extravaganza
Like a post-Soviet Oedipal X-Factor, the Belarus Free Theatre on Friday night gave one of the greatest productions of King Lear London has ever seen. Forget our local Lears, with naked theatrical knights and casts in emotional straitjackets: this was as cruel, as beautiful, as you could want. It shook the Globe from the yard to the rafters.
Part of Globe to Globe, it is a poignant play for a company of dissidents. Lear (Aleh Sidorchik) wore a radiant gauntlet, which he broke Cordelia’s nose with when she refused to sing the songs her sisters had. Goneril’s was an orgasmic version of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", except she seemed to place her heart 18 inches south, while Regan gave us a preview of Belarus’s Eurovision entry. Both received their share of the kingdom as their father shovelled dirt from a pram into their uplifted skirts, so that clasping it to their stomachs they looked pregnant.
Coup de théâtre followed coup de théâtre. The storm scene was rendered with a blue tarpaulin, lifted and dropped by the cast, which cracked and thundered as Lear blindly tripped around it, enmeshed and soaked. The battle between England and France trapped the cast under a red tarpaulin which they punched and kicked, its booms making by far the cheapest and most effective version of this scene. And when Goneril and Regan were trying to talk their father out of his pride and his retinue, which was taking over their houses, they clasped onto his neck and he spun them around, at first sweetly and childishly, then faster and faster until they were parallel to the stage and you were terrified they could fly off.
Music and songs were essential to this Lear. After the primal cabaret at the start, a piano remained on stage pretty much throughout, characters tapping out the initial howls of rain, smashing dissonances of fear and hatred and accompanying threats, laments and seductions. The piano functioned as instrument of control, too: when the Fool played, the characters were compelled to dance even as they spoke. As a symbol of everything the Belarus Free Theatre stands against, it was perfect.
Far from being just a Brechtian extravaganza, this Lear also provided rigorous yet inventive interpretations of scenes and characters. Instead of the camp howls when Lear carries Cordelia in, he silently pushed her in on the pram out of which he had been dealing dirt in the first scene. As he whispered to her and imagined her coming back to life, the Globe was silent, beyond compelled. If this ever gets put on in London again, you have no excuse not to see it.
Josh Spero, The Arts Desk, 20 May 2012