Gender-bending of Shakespeare leaves you wanting more: Queen Lear Review

Ben Wray

Queen Lear – Bard in the Botanics – Glasgow Botanic Gardens – 21 June – 29 July

JANETTE FOGGO leads in the title role of Bard in the Botanics Queen Lear, the company’s 16th season of Shakespeare in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, this year themed “These Headstrong Women.”

Of course, gender-bending of Shakespeare characters is hardly new. However the conversation about the opportunities for women in classical theatre is topical, not least with the appointment of Emma Rice as artistic director of The Globe last year and her aim for a 50/50 gender balance on the historical stage. Bard in the Botanics is responding to this conversation.

Artistic Director Gordon Barr said: “For us, there is absolutely no reason why a female actor can’t play Lear or Timon… We have proven this so many times in the past at Bard in the Botanics but now it’s time to put that message at the heart of our work.”

Foggo’s Queen Lear is a mighty matriarch with misplaced wrath. The subtle deterioration of her health is threaded throughout under Jennifer Dick’s direction leading to her reliance on a clinical wheelchair in the final scenes. This is punctuated by the score by Sally Simpson, which mixes folksy music with the swirling and whistling of stormy winds – all the more effective when real winds sweep through the Botanic Gardens around the blanket-clad audience.

There are few subplots within this six-cast production which focuses almost primarily on Lear’s desire for flattery from her children and its result in fatal feuds. Lear’s youngest and most genuine child has been changed from the daughter Cordelia to the son Cornelius played by Nathan Byrne who also later disguises as the Queen’s confidante Poor Tom, transforming the famous Lear – Fool relationship. Lear’s eldest, Goneril (Emma Claire Brightlyn) is plagued by uncertainty and regret and turns against the ruthless Regan, Lear’s second daughter, played with delightful ferocity by Stephanie McGregor.

The setting, designed by Gillian Argo, is a rustic, simple stage, set against the Botanics oldest greenhouse. Stag sculls are hung from the brown muslin backdrop giving a deadly feel to Lear’s tumultuous kingdom.

This is the kind of Shakespeare that leaves you wanting more.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Ga-Ken Wan