Dan and Giles were at Shakespeare's Globe to see a Belarusian King Lear.
GILES: A thing is either free or it's not. Bird. Water. Whatever. I always pause for a fraction of a second whenever I see a dog on a leash. I’ll never quite get used to it I don’t think. But how free are we actually? Can you go and do whatever you want, right now? Walk into any building or place? Sit wherever you like? Tonight's show spat these questions up for us. What is freedom? In The Tempest Caliban sings: “Thought is free…”. King Lear casts everything off and bowls out into the wilderness when his universe starts crashing around him. Dies in the end but achieves a kind of freedom in the process. Shakespeare’s most extreme play. Titus Andronicus may be a bloody gorefest but in Lear everyone gets their souls torn apart. Men and women go as far as they can go in this play. It’s the human condition totally on fire and you can put it on as a kind of Father Christmas fairytale or you can go after the play. Tonight Belarus Free Theatre went for the play.
DAN: Back home this play could get them killed. To speak Edgar's closing lines – “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” – could hardly cost more to the actor brave enough to say it in Belarus. Belarus Free Theatre was formed as a means of resisting the censorship and pressure of the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko and his boys. They have been brutalised, arrested. They perform in streets, in people’s houses, in cafes, fields. Performing Harold Pinter, Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard, Sarah Kane. When they perform they are performing for their lives. Since then they have become the darling cause of all right-minded liberals around the Londons and New Yorks of this world.
GILES: This is only an attempt to describe what we saw last night. Really it defies commentary. At first glimpse you’d say it was a good old fashioned, bonkers eastern European production. “I bet someone’ll come out wearing wellies”, Dan says as the place fills up. “I wonder how long it’ll take before someone gets naked”, I reply. Didn’t have to wait long for either. The entire cast were in wellies. There was an upright piano on stage. An accordion (of course). The daughters sang and wore fur coats.
DAN: Whenever Lear kissed one of them it was a sort of tongue snog. Someone was in a wheelchair. He pissed sitting down while Edmund tried to catch the piss in a jar. Edgar, in transforming himself into Poor Tom, reached down into his pants and produced shit, which he "begrimed" himself with.
GILES: Everyone on stage was naked at one point. I actually saw a guy's hairy areshole. It was at that point my understanding of the whole experience shifted. The Globe was rammed and I’d say a third of the audience found it all a bit much. Once the genitals started coming out the woman next to us – who was up a couple glasses of Pinot – started tutting to her city husband. This couple’s experience then began to fascinate me as much as the production. At one point she lent over to him and said: “I love the fur coats”. They shifted and tutted and sighed and got distracted all the way through the first half. And I realised it wasn’t so much the poo that got to them as the fact that they were not getting what they wanted from this night out. They hadn’t come for poo. They’d come for something safer. Something less frightening and definitely less close to home. In Hamlet Shakespeare says we must hold a mirror up to nature. Well, who the hell wants to sit and look in the mirror for three hours? Only those who see the truth as a vital part of human life. It was as if the Belarus Free Theatre were saying, no one in the play gets off lightly so why the fuck should you?
DAN: I’m not sure whether they included he lines that always get me. I’d like to think they did...
Come, let's away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prison
all our Summer 2012 coverage at www.whatsonstage.com/summer2012