The knives are out from the off in Mark Saunders' all-female version of Shakespeare's inter-familial political tragedy, performed by students from the MA Classical and Contemporary Text course. With Lear's throne set atop a chess-board flooring, as he courts the favour of each of his three daughters in full view of his extended entourage, he inadvertently sets in motion a series of physical, political and emotional conflicts which will rip apart an already divided kingdom.
Step forward Claire Winkleblack's Edmund, a floppy-haired dandy who takes advantage of both Goneril and Regan, adding an erotic frisson to the ongoing round of corruption and double bluffs that fuel the power-crazed schemes of each. Out in the wilds,meanwhile, is where Lear, Edmund's brother Edgar and their blinded father find out what really matters.
While Kristin Morris' Lear is a wild-haired demagogue surrounded by a tunic-clad court, Francesca Isherwood's Goneril and Tori Burgess' Regan are a pair of fur-clad power-dressing careerists. Rosa French's Cordelia pursues a more free-spirited path, with French also doubling up as a white-coated clown doctor Fool. When Davina Leonard's Kent dons flat cap and dour demeanour as he swears loyalty to the King, the effect of all this falls somewhere between Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey.
Burgess' Regan is a particularly nasty piece of work in this respect as she forms a grisly double act with Isherwood's Goneril. While Morris invests Lear with measured gravitas, French keeps a cool head as Cordelia, before she too is doomed. With the Chandler Studio stripped back to reveal the full expanse of what is usually seen as a more intimate space, this is a fascinating cross-dressing exploitation of Shakespeare's under-explored feminine side.
The Herald, March 10th 2015