King Lear with Sheep at the Courtyard
The distinctive smell of livestock wafts out from backstage, signalling to excited audience members that they are in for something slightly different. The modest Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton hosts this latest gimmick on a small stage-cum-sheep pen. The one-joke play boasts a production of one of the Bard’s best works, with a twist: the cast are sheep.
Not for those with allergies or an aversion to farm animals in costume, this is a new take on the Shakespearean classic. Only one actor, Alasdair Saksena, is up on stage, playing the director of a similar production. He can’t get his sheep to act and subsequently goes mad. The problem is that his cast won’t perform, or reply to his increasingly desperate pleas. Eventually, he rips off his shirt and recites all the dialogue himself, succumbing to the insanity also suffered by the titular monarch. Although, if he really were trying to stage an all-sheep play, presumably he was fairly mad already. The play opens with him nervously sitting alone onstage, waiting for his farmyard cast to appear, but the audience is restless, just wanting to see the real stars of the show. When the sheep eventually enter, there are “oohs” and “ahhs”, and cameras are taken out to snap pictures.
Like a petting zoo where you can’t touch the animals, King Lear with Sheep is a surprisingly pointless and disappointing play. The out-of-place bleating of the sheep draws more laughs from the audience than the dialogue. Saksena holds the production together, but is ultimately upstaged by seven sheep in cloaks and crowns – a shame, given his efforts and talent. Writer-director Missouri Williams has discovered a concept that, when analysed, is compelling, but the audience members are distracted by the fluffy creatures in their eye line. They came for the sheep, and little else.
Photos: Nick Morris
King Lear with Sheep is on at the Courtyard Theatre from 12th August until 4th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.