King Lear is regarded as the pinnacle of theatre: difficult to climb but from there you can look down into the abyss. It is a royal drama which starts with the old king announcing a rhetorical competition between his three daughters, disinheriting the youngest, dividing his kingdom in two and giving up power. But instead of a peaceful retirement, an odyssey awaits Lear during which he will lose all the certainties he had before. His faithful follower the Duke of Gloucester shares a similar fate, falling for a trap set by his illegitimate son Edmund, renouncing his legitimate son Edgar and suffering his own downfall. King Lear is a play about war: between generations, between siblings, between armies. It is a play without mothers, where rich men turn into beggars and a blind man is able to see. It is an endgame in which an old order collapses and values are turned to ruins between which a storm rages that may be followed by nothing at all. Or something new.
Director Johan Simons also accepts the challenge of the new with this production under new conditions: "Normally" the stage represents a space of possibility: Figures can meet and touch each other there in a way that would not be possible in reality. At present, we are confronted with many rules in the theatre. Closeness and intimacy are currently not possible nor on stage - neither in social space.
This production is an attempt to make this new consciousness of the players and the audience visible. The characters are even more isolated than in Shakespeare, less involved in dialogues, their words have hardly any direction, time shifts. Do they still speak to someone or only to themselves? Lear and the Fool are an exception, as they have long since discovered a new world in which - what a utopia! - one may touch: that of language.
"I had already been rehearsing for four weeks when coronavirus arrived. It is an irony of fate that Shakespeare wrote the play during the plague when he himself was in quarantine. So I shall re-read the play with this in mind and come up with a new production. The two metre distancing rules are a curse, but also inspiring. Because in the theatre you can make a virtue of a necessity. In the middle of King Lear Shakespeare describes a mighty storm that rages both in external reality and inside the king’s mind. What I find special about this is that Lear surrenders to the storm voluntarily but in the last moment he uses its power to steer his own life in a different direction. Death – or to be more precise: the manner of one’s death – is an important subject. I personally have a large part of my life behind me and I wonder whether in the hour of my death I will be able to transcend my own fear. The fact that, despite all his suffering, Lear is able to die happily while holding the dead body of his daughter, is an aspect of this play I find particularly moving."
Schauspielhaus Bochum has commissioned a new translation of Shakespeare’s drama by the Austrian author and playwright Miroslava Svolikova.
Deutsch mit englischen Übertiteln.
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