Queen Lear (4 stars)

Queen Lear

Janette Foggo / credit: Tommy Ga-ken Wan

Gender swapped Shakespeare's a force of nature

The gathering storm brings chills to an uncharacteristically warm evening in the Botanic Gardens in Jennifer Dick's production. Janette Foggo takes the lead as an imperious, terrifying Queen Lear, ready to bequeath her fortune to doting offspring, only to be denied her flattery and cast them aside.

Cordelia,the most adoring, is transformed into sweet but rebellious Cornelius (a fabulous Nathan Byrne) whose clowning alter ego Fool speaks much truth in folly.

What emerges in Dick's play is a superb collection of character studies: a manipulative psychopathic Regan (Stephanie McGregor); pompous, yet conflicted Goneril (Emma Claire Brightlyn) and tender Cornelius, but it's a flawless Foggo's performance which dominates, first by force, then through teeth gnashing madness and finally as a pathetic shell as she loses her mind.

There is a lot of impressive playfulness too within the adapted dialogue. Auld Scots and a liberal use of the word 'pal' is sprinkled into the original lyrical language, but never in a way that feels forced or jarring.

When the inevitable mental and physical decline of the queen arrives, it is devastating, as though witnessing the toppling of a mighty mountain. A potent memento mori, even the war mongering Regan and Goneril must fall. The skulls in Gillian Argo's rugged set thus become more significant as symbols of such human frailty. Fierce as it is poignant, the production is utterly uncompromising.

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, run ended.

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