Friday, February 10, 2006

The Little Things

Saw the show again on Wednesday night. It was a strong, solid run; the audience was very quiet at the start, but the cast seemed to know what was needed to light a fire under them, and they were much more animated, laughing and squirming and gasping on cue, in Act Two. Good for them; that's the sort of finessing that many professional casts can't even manage.

Getting to see the show for the first time in a while, as well as seeing it without my director's hat firmly attached to my head, I was able to notice details that had either evolved in my absence, or else which had always been there but I just didn't spot them. I didn't take notes, but here's what I remember:
  • Introducing the love test, just before "Goneril, our eldest born, speak first," Lear's gaze lingers on Regan--and then his index finger points away from his gaze, taking Goneril by surprise. Keepin' the kids off-balance.
  • Kent has a prop ring which he gives to Gargrave during the storm. I knew that Kieran was using this ring to signify his rank, and that he was going to remove it during his soliloquy ("Now, banished Kent..."). This time I also saw Kent fingering it unconsciously in 1.1, while he was summoning up the nerve to confront Lear; and again, once he'd been banished.
  • And then, on his "Now, banished Kent" soliloquy, he put a finger to his lips, as if to beseech the audience not to give his true identity away. That's awesome; audiences love to be complicit in secrets, and there are so many of them in this play, I lose track.
  • Albany kneels to Lear ("My lord, I am ignorant of what hath moved you"), but Lear stalks off without seeming to acknowledge him. Goneril is upstage, rolling her eyes--now, as soon as Lear is off, she slips downstage and hauls Albany up onto his feet. Her embarrassment in having to associate with this "milk-liver'd man" is already palpable.
  • Cornwall's repressed rage at his own wife erupts in slightly different ways each night. Now he's taken to cutting off her lines in 1.6, which probably drives Brittany crazy, but which does the right thing in keeping Regan powerless and unsure.
  • Gloster re-enters after following Lear out into the storm. "The king is in high rage," he says, and then attempts to convince Cornwall and the daughters to relieve him. Up till now, Peter has delivered these lines with the same slightly befuddled consternation that typifies Gloster at this point in the play. This time, the lines had a real edge to them, and I realized that the near-sighted old man was actually starting to clue in; he could see the parallels growing between Edgar, his own allegedly unfaithful son, and these "unnatural hags" who didn't care a whit if their old man got washed away.
  • Out at Dover, Lear enters giggling with a wreath of flowers, berries and ribbons on his head. Tonight, by choice or accident, he came out with the wreath on backwards, so the red ribbons hung in front of his eyes. Gloster is already onstage at this point, with a blood-stained bandage covering his own "bleeding rings." What a lovely visual parallel, intentional or otherwise!
  • At the end, when Lear enters carrying Cordelia, Allan as Albany does some outstanding physical acting (actually, everyone onstage is great, but most of them have been instructed to stay very still). When he sees Lear, he is facing upstage. He bends over, almost double, with the shock of what he sees (which conveniently allows us to see it also). Then he stumbles backwards, averting his eyes and remaning closed off to the audience. He ends up standing stage left, still hunkered over, and he looks for all the world like a blasted tree or an ancient statue worn down by the elements. The other actors, also "men of stone" have similar postures of distress. Lear is surrounded by corpses and broken men--no one has the strength, or the power, to alleviate, or even share, his pain, and so he cries alone.
There's lots of other great bits. And then there are the bits which, I'm told, change every night, like the Knights' shenanigans in 1.3, or Kent's visual illustration of the infamous Lipsbury Pinfold (I'm a bit anxious to see where these improvised bits go on closing night; things could get ugly).

As I've said before, I enjoy seeing new things occur onstage. When I think of being in a four-month-long production run at Stratford (or--god help us--Cats), where nothing is supposed to change, nothing seems more dull, more untheatrical. And Lear, of course, is the sort of play on could do for ages, and constantly discover new things that work.

For better or worse, theatre is ephemeral (although we will be video recording the final show). Our work on this show must stop after 12 performances. But I certainly have lots of tricks and lessons to take with me into the next grand enterprise...about which topic, more anon.


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