If you are a regular visitor here you can probably guess who sent it to me and over a year ago now (thank you again Kevin, I get there in the end) and you can read Kevin's own thoughts on the play here...and much as I want to read them right now and get all the answers I have to write this first and find my own.
Though I say so myself I think I did a pretty good job of producing, directing, stage managing and acting on my own, and with not a moment's screaming from the audience either, just rapturous applause.
Rocky knows how to behave.
Just three parts for me to play ~
Jane :: a well known actress in her day whose confidence in her ability to memorise lines has dissipated in line with the lack of available stage roles for older women. Jane is emerging from that retirement to play the part of Lear in an all female production of the play to be staged by a women's collective.
Heather :: the young teenage daughter of the business partner of Jane's late husband who Jane is paying to help her run through her lines.
and I'll admit it, the next one did give me a bit of bother.
A Cellist :: The cellist in fact seems to play the role of a chorus, commenting musically and perhaps (or perhaps not) only heard and often to her annoyance by Jane, though Eugene Stickland offers much leeway in this interpretation and on how visible the cellist needs to be.
I sat her in the kitchen and let her get on with it as I had enough to contend with, and though Stickland suggests Bach I stuck a CD of the Elgar on as that's all I could find, and then curled up on the sofa with a noisy packet of sweets and a bottle of water (joke)
The stage setting caused me no trouble, a living room. A fireplace. Some good art on the walls...well we like ours, it's good enough art.
So as Jane and Heather meet regularly over a period of several weeks for Jane to rehearse her lines it emerges that two women at opposite ends of their lives have much to offer each other. Both need nurturing in their own way and as the play progresses that nurturing becomes a two-way process.
Heather's mother has died recently and she is living alone with her father who has become increasingly over-protective,
HEATHER: He wants me to stay just like the little girl I was when my mom died. But I'm not a little girl any more. And he feels bad because my mum will never have the chance to know me as a grown up so he doesn't want me to change...
Whilst Jane, widowed and alone, who knows, perhaps she craves someone to protect her.
The expectation that Jane's wisdom alone will prevail is keenly set up in the early scenes as she lectures Heather on the changing face of language after a teenage 'whatever ' moment,
JANE: ...you use language that is hurtful...we believe in a relationship between our intellect and the words we say, even between our soul, and our expression. If we give up on that, then we will live in a world where no one really says what they mean, and no one will really understand what is being said to them...you as a bright and educated young woman are one of the keepers of the flame.'
Jane sends Heather off to an evening with friends instead of running through the lines one evening, something her father wouldn't countenance, thus investing some much needed trust in Heather's ability to look after herself, whilst Heather very movingly fires a rocket across Jane's bows when she hints that learning these lines might all be too much for her ageing mind and perhaps she'll pull out.
When the part of Cordelia suddenly becomes vacant because the incumbent has gone off to be a carpenter, Jane uses the vision of Heather's deceased mother to prevail on Heather's emotions...a trick that Heather has likewise clearly been using to excuse herself from all manner of situations.
HEATHER: That's my mother. I can use her if I need to. I don't think it's fair of you to use her.
I suspect that the conversation that follows is one of those pin-drop moments in any stage production of Queen Lear.
There are some gentle and surprising twists in the action slowly revealing the multiple intentions of the playwright, and all set against the wider backdrop of a life dominated by the potential for fewer and fewer opportunities for the generations to communicate with each other. The danger that those means of communication increasingly become the coded text speak domain of the younger generation is self-evident, and interestingly it takes the most complex and lengthy work of a 16th century male playwright to bridge that gap.
Themes of ageing women, of language, of that generation gap and the expertise that women have in bridging those chasms all seemed part of Eugene Stickland's plan here, and the irony of Jane's explanation that there weren't that many old men around who could remember the lines for King Lear either, or that the women's collective would forgive Shakespeare for being a man, wasn't lost on this audience.
It can be hard to know when an audience might laugh when you're reading all the parts yourself but I think those might have been two of them...or else I'd have been the only one chortling and people would have been doing the 'looking over the shoulder' thing in my direction.
It's difficult to convey the absolute pleasure that reading this play gave me or how much it has lingered and grown in my mind since. I read the sixteen scenes over two sessions, visualised what was happening, facial expressions and body language all seemed to appear readily and now of course I see the downside to all this... I'd actually give my eye-teeth to see Queen Lear by Eugene Stickland on the next Theatre Royal programme that lands in the post box.
Currently the play has been running for several months to packed houses in Istanbul, starring Yildiz Kenter, an 81 year old actress who is considered by many to be the Elizabeth Taylor of Turkish screen and stage, and I can see no reason why it wouldn't run to packed houses here in the UK.
Who decides these things? Someone tell them... it's crying out for Dame Judi, how many good stage roles are there for older women, she's 75 and may slap me for revealing that, but this would be right up her alley.
The Canadians and the Turks clearly know a good play when they see one, meanwhile the Lloyd Webber army marches on here in the UK (and don't get me wrong, I love him too, it's just that...well you know) as London braces for The Wizard of Oz after the TV search for a Dorothy, and Plymouth's getting all excited about The Sound of Music yet again.