Review – “I, Lear” – Trafalgar Studios

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Friday night is often a difficult night to watch theater for me. All of the mainstage shows (that aren’t crap) are frequently either sold out or only offering outrageously priced tickets, and I don’t really have the energy to watch anything more than two hours long or in any way an energy suck. Fortunately, Trafalgar Studios came to my rescue. They (along with the Soho Theater) have been staging a lot of fun one acts that in many cases have had a previous life as fringe theater (often actually from the Edinburgh Fringe festival, so “creme de la fringe”) and are perfectly suited to after work on a Friday night. Also very kindly, these productions often come with a sweet price tag, in this case a mere £10, and, in the case of Lear, a relaxed start time of 7:45, enough for dinner without needing to rush. What a winner!

We’d actually seen the Sir Ian King Lear in November, so the show was still pretty fresh in my mind, and when I’d seen the ads for a comedic short version (by the Black Sheep, aka Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh), I was very up for seeing it. The show was quite different than I’d originally thought, though: rather than just being Lear, it was also a bit of a tour through other plays and playwrights, framed as “the history of British theater” (starting with the Greeks and including Chekov and Tennessee Williams) and a sort of demonstration of the various acting techniques that make these shows come to life (or not).

I did actually get quite a bit of laughs out of this fast moving show. Not every joke hit, but the energy was very up, and in an intimate space like this, I could really feel it rolling off of the stage. We got a little bit of improv (when the actor’s cane broke as he attempted to lift himself off of the stage with it during the Chekov bit), several very comic lines aimed at the highly theater literate (Alan Bennet – very prolific and terribly boring – oh, why didn’t I take notes!), and a lot of corny jokes and bad puns. There was also some scatological humor (during the Greek scene) and some, er, well, maybe a lot of sex jokes. Truth be told, I was busting a gut during the show, and while the cider, sake, and Pimms might have had a bit to do with that, mostly it was just that I was getting off watching Jones and Murtagh do their thing (especially when things went a little wrong – God, I love to watch actors struggle to get their ship back upright!).

The actual Lear bit was a bit not as exciting as I was hoping for. It was actually a rehash of what we’d seen earlier, so it was a bunch of jokes that we’d been set up for (the re-enactment of Bennet’s “Faces,” the re-use of the Greek tragedy in Lear’s storm scene, the wiping of the nostrils with Marmite – don’t ask), and was fairly clever but, well, not as sharp as I would have liked and not playing on the material as well as I could have enjoyed. Still, overall the night was a good one, and the price was right on and my laughs were hearty, so I’d say “I, Lear” was a success.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, August 8th, 2008. I, Lear continues at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday, August 16th.)

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