Theatre 
Queen Lear
Botanic Gardens, Glasgow 
Neil Cooper
Four stars


“When the mind is free,” says the terrified old lady at the centre of Jennifer Dick's female reworking of Shakespeare's mightiest tragedy, “the body is delicate.” With Janette Foggo's matriarchal Lear having alienated her entire brood both from herself and each other, there's a double edged sword to such a proclamation, that is a cry for help as much as attention. In Dick's Bard in the Botanics production, however, Lear sees as much or as little as she wants to.

There are hints that the ageing Queen is losing her senses from the off, as she attempts emotional blackmail on her three kids, only to set off the ultimate family feud. It is telling too that, while her two daughters Regan and Goneril are at each other's throats, Lear dotes on her youngest, who here has been transformed from Cordelia into a geeky boy called Cornelius. He would rather play the fool than be molly-coddled, and when he disguises himself in clown make up as Poor Tom, his mother latches on to his new persona as a surrogate to stave off her son's seeming rejection.

All of this is played out on designer Gillian Argo's rustic shack, decorated with stags skulls that suggest any lingering male influence has been dealt with good and proper. Wearing jumpers and jodhpurs, the six actors onstage look like they've stepped out of a James Cowie painting. Composer Sally Simpson's underscore mixes cracked folk mournfulness with a storm that seems to have erupted from a BBC Radiophonic Workshop out-take. It is a mother's fear of being deserted by her offspring, however, that leads to her saddest of downfalls.

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