Monday, February 8, 2010
Seven Lears - by Howard Barker
Continuing a week of Barker, maybe longer...
Seven Lears takes as its starting point the wonder about the mother, the queen, Lear's wife. How she is never mentioned in Shakespeare's play and why might that be? From this Barker spins a play in seven parts. Seven stages of Lear's life, from child, to youth, to warrior, to king - to just before the play that we know begins - and we are presented with a portrait of a king's education.
In his telling Lear was the youngest of three brothers, and when playing in the castle came upon the jail with the prisoners rotting and tortured. He is disturbed by this and rolls the implications over in his mind, while his brothers want to go play football. Outside his brothers throw themselves over a cliff and Lear is left to grow up the king. He's provided with a tutor, the Bishop, who's goal is to learn the compassion out of the future ruler. From here a portrait of a coddled ruler arises, one whom everyone agrees with and protects from his own stupidity. (although pre-Bush - there is an eerie familiar echo of the young man raised to claim power and to never doubt himself) He falls in love with a girl, Clarrisa, who insists on truth, no matter how awkward or painful. He marries her and she proves herself to the backbone of the kingdom, the sense behind his petulance - and though eventually she betrays him by loving another, she is honest throughout. It is this that is repressed and why she is erased from Shakespeare's King Lear.
There's a theatrical freedom in Barker's work that I'm finding exhilerating. The daughters clamouring for consummation so that they can be born, Regan describing her unwillingness to come out of the womb into the vile world. A collapsing of time so that in one scene a baby can grow into a young woman in a fluid, coherent, dramatic rush. Additionally the bald speech of the characters and the chorus, a frankness about power and the insecurities that power nurtures amongst the annoited. The sense that on this stage, the bare and ugly truth will be said aloud and wrestled with. It is vastly different from our naturalism, from the carefully, unfolding conversations where truth is peeled away - instead it is the widest scope possible shoe-horned into the finite space of the play. And within the object of the play one crystal can be examined, one that replicates itself out endlessly to form the world around us.