Lear’s Daughters

Reviewer's rating

The Footfall Theatre Company presents the daughters of Shakespeare’s King Lear – Regan, Goneril and Cordelia – who reunite in a 21st century kitchen. Sitting around the table at Christmas there is talk of dividing their inheritance, whilst their old father is wheeled around by a live-in nurse – the Earl of Gloucester.

Faithful to Shakespeare’s original script yet solely the lines of the daughters, Regan and Goneril compete in a verbal display of their daughterly love, whilst Cordelia “cannot heave my heart into my mouth”. She tries to protect her father from her vicious, animal-like sisters.

King Lear is not played by an actor but is represented by an empty wheelchair. This is original and very effective – his immobility means he can be manoeuvred by others and his physical absence allows for Regan and Goneril’s uncompromised cruelty. Lear’s eventual madness is invisible due to his lack of script, and this permits full exposure of the three daughters’ contrasting emotions – they have the audience’s undivided attention.

The musicality of this performance is also a success. Gloucester’s singing and drumming builds tension on stage, particularly as the two sisters compete over Edmond, and when Goneril eventually poisons Regan. Omnipresent yet largely ignored by the other characters, Gloucester is Lear’s backbone, and his quiet, somewhat mysterious role in this particular performance culminates in a terrifying scene involving lots of strawberry jam as Regan gauges his eyes out.

This is a fantastic adaptation – the anxiety between the sisters is convincing in the performance’s shift of focus and modern setting.