Pros: Impressive voices created some stirring moments.
Cons: The concept and delivery made it difficult to engage with some scenes.
Some people might be in a negative frame of mind when they go out on a rainy February evening to see some theatre. Especially when they’re warned by stern posters at the bar that despite serving wine in plastic cups, we would not be able to take it into the show, because the barman explained, “the theatre company are Polish.” But not me.
Reviewers are meant to be level-headed but given the awful weather outside, I was decidedly on the positive side of things, willing to see the best in whatever I saw that evening, knowing it would be cheerier than the rain. The fact that Polish Song of The Goat company has a sterling international reputation and awards to back it up didn’t hurt I’m sure. So although I wasn’t as blown away by this show as several audience members giving standing ovations, it was different and interesting enough to brighten my mood.
The show comprised a series of “dramatic poems” telling the story of Shakespeare’s King Lear in non-linear episodic chunks. If you’re familiar with the play, you may be able to pick out parts of the plot but don’t expect to keep up, to give you an idea, Cordelia dies about half way through this version rather than at the end (I hope you’ll pardon the lack of preceding Spoiler Alert after four hundred years). Indeed, unless you’re well versed in either opera or Polish, I wouldn’t expect to get a firm grasp on a lot of the play. But the magic of this piece does not wholly rely on this either.
There were some truly powerful moments that broke across any cultural or language barriers such as the high-energy, stomping affair that dramatises Cordelia’s rejection by her father, the brutality of the act wonderfully captured in the simple but humiliating gesture of Lear removing Cordelia’s shoes from her feet and throwing them to her watching sisters. The next dramatic poem has Cordelia (played by a different cast member) singing Cordelia’s farewell speech from Shakespeare’s original text, at first quietly, then ever stronger, creating a truly haunting moment.
The pathos of these moments was intense enough that it carried me over some of the other vignettes where I couldn’t quite get a handle on what was going on, but not all of them. A few scenes comprised of mostly stationary singing in a language I didn’t understand with robotic gestures that did little to indicate either story or mood. The narrator titling each scene at the start was so vague that it didn’t really give any helpful hints, and the difficulty to form even a vague understanding of some scenes meant that there were moments where I wasn’t really engaged with anything onstage.
There is definitely the sense that I feel enriched by having seen Songs of Lear, and it was certainly impressive – there’s no way you can watch über cool Europeans dressed head-to-toe in black sing the way they did and not be moved. However, despite the remarkable craft of the thing, I couldn’t help but feel that something was lost in translation, and I don’t think it had to do with what country the company were from.
Director: Grzegorz Bral
Music: Jean-Claude Acquaviva and Maciej Rychly
Songs: Kacper Kuszewski
Producer: Song of The Goat with BAC and Polish Cultural Institute
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: www.bac.org.uk/songsoflear
Booking Until: 22nd February