About a third of the way through this riveting, devastating performance, director/conductor Grzegorz Bral introduced the next song or “painting” by saying that Cordelia’s experience in the love test had been nothing new. The king had been betraying his daughter for years. An actor came forward and sat in a chair, surrounded by the other nine actors dressed in black. She sang the same lines three different times: as a four year old, a twelve-year old, and the seventeen year old princess who opens the play:
The jewels of our father, with wash’d eyes
Cordelia leaves you.[…]
Love well our father
To your professed bosoms I commit him
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace
I would prefer him to a better place. (1.1.268-74)
Rich harmonies swelled up behind the seated singer from the chanting cast. Tears glistened on her face. Words hung in the air, deepened and changed through repetition: “jewels” “love” “commit” “grace.” Fear and love became anger and — perhaps? — resignation.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a more moving five minutes of theater. I am sure I’ll never hear those lines the same way again. See better, Lear!
This production, which won all the awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012 and, as its own website notes, “has already passed into legend,” wasn’t a version of King Lear so much as a series of song-paintings that engage some primary moments. Gloucester got a brilliant drum solo but kept his eyes, and the parts of Lear, Cordelia, and the Fool occupied center stage. The twelve sections included lyrics based on Gregorian chants as well as Shakespeare’s play.
Lear’s curse to Goneril was another highlight, with some interesting overlap between Cordelia and her evil sister.
I’m listening to the CD over and over right now, wishing the next two nights weren’t sold out so that I could go again. I also like this You Tube trailer.
To the list of companies who I’d pay to see do anything, anywhere, any time, I’ll now add Song of the Goat.