In partnership with Crisis, the And Tomorrow Theatre Company has developed a quintet of plays (Abdictation, Dissolution, Isolation, Desolation) which take Shakespeare’s King Lear as inspiration – drawing out the lines of Lear himself. This project, which places the character of the king into a modern and harsh London, is directed by Anthony Shrubsall with cinematography by Charles Teton and is called Lear Alone.
Wandering through recognisable and not so recognisable parts of the capital, Edmund Dehn brings the king to life over three episodes which present him from the perspective of one who is homeless, hopeless and helpless.
It is a strong performance, but one necessarily fractured by the removal of all other voices and lines. He speaks to the air, to inanimate objects. No one bears him any attention, as if he is a homeless or dispossessed person sitting by the kerb, sign or cup in hand, seeking a connection, a word, a coin, a look.
In Lear Alone, Dehn becomes a lost old man rejected by his family and fallen on hard times. His ‘madness’ may be a sadness, or a descent into dementia. It isn’t clear until well into the third play what his situation is.
King Lear is the obvious play in which to explore the plight of the elderly homeless, and makes sense to some degree of the heightened words and shaken actions. What may be impenetrable, though, is any access point to those unfamiliar with the play.
The locations are beautifully chosen, and give a real sense of expanse, familiarity, and loss. This is a man who has retreated into his own darkness and fractured memories. His strength and dignity is obvious, but we fear for his safety and wish him back where he can be looked after. This project is a clever one, which takes the framing of a play about one thing, and makes it another.
In just over forty-five minutes of film Lear Alone reveals the contemporary relevance the Bard’s words can have. It is not entirely successful, but where it does hold it is very moving and deeply conscious of what it means to be on the fringes of society in the later stages of one’s life, afraid, angry, and unexpectedly benign.It is certainly a recognisable portrait of dementia, and of the way state systems can easily fail vulnerable people.
Lear Alone is available on Scenesaver now, in both captioned and uncaptioned versions. It is free to view – if you wish to make a donation to Crisis, you can do so here.
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