kilgor_trautt (kilgor_trautt) wrote,

Свободный театр / King Lear / The Guardian

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Belarus Free Theatre. King Lear – review

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A gaunt and arthritic king totters on stage, his head a thatch of matted white hair – then, grinning, he springs up like a jack-in-the-box and whisks off the wig. This is, we gather, one of Lear's dangerous little jokes: one of many in a production that teases constantly at our expectations. Instead of treating the play as it's so often done in Britain, as Shakespeare's attempt at a PhD in epistemology, Vladimir Shcherban and a young, energetic Belarus Free Theatre company offer instead a Lear returned vividly to its roots: as a comic folktale that shatters into tragedy.

Central in every sense is Aleh Sidorchik's wolfish King, given to wandering around grandly with one fist in a glittering iron gauntlet, but who you suspect is running a petrol scam on the side. It's an extraordinary performance, physically charged yet off-centredly charming, and a believable portrait of a man who collapses because he fails to connect with his family. The company inventively use sound and the simplest of props to underscore the point: what begins as a mocking on-stage susurration, Lear's daughters whispering in his ears, ends in a storm scene powered by the roaring of a cheap plastic blue tarpaulin, shaken into an improvised sea by the cast – at first an obstacle that the King must overcome, then his bivouac on the heath. Equally well-judged are Yana Rusakevich's Goneril and Maryna Yurevich's Regan: harridans neither, but long-suffering children pushed to the limit. Hanna Slatvinskaya's worldly-wise Cordelia is driven even further, to the bottle – a plausible hint that her shotgun marriage to the opportunistic King of France (Aliaksei Naranovich) was never likely to bring much happiness.

Sometimes the jokey, improvisational tone goes awry: presenting the daughters' battle for affection as a rival striptease like something from a Belarusian lapdancing club was one idea that could safely have stayed in rehearsals, and I tired of the on-stage, off-tune piano, which ends up being tinkled by nearly everyone, apparently on the basis that it's there to be used. But again and again BFT find images that pierce the play to the quick, and which draw out an often-buried theme, its battle between the generations: Siarhei Kvachonak's posh-student Edgar, puffing distractedly on a spliff, can no more understand Pavel Garadnitski's testy, incontinent Gloucester than Lear can communicate with his daughters. And as Edmund, Aliaksei Naranovich is for once not a snarling villain, but a practical man making the best from unfair circumstances.

Only the conclusion, oddly, wobbled: staging Cordelia's hanging upfront, downstage and surrounded by audience members, reduces the impact of this most brutal and shocking of acts, and makes a nonsense of Lear's entrance with her body, where Shakespeare carefully strains the suspense about whether she's really dead past breaking point. And Sidorchik's decision to whisper the final scene meant that its impact disappears beneath the noise of nighttime Southwark (even for those, like me, who don't understand Belarusian). I felt the loss – particularly when the play's ideas had been articulated with such blade-like sharpness.

Andrew Dickson, The Guardian, 23 May 2012
Tags: "Свободный театр", Англия, Лондон, критика, пресса, театр
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