King Lear is one of the great and revered tragedies in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Following the political scandal and emotional fallout concerning the inheritance of a kingdom, it is perhaps most memorable for its lurid depiction of the relationship between father and daughter.
So what does this have to do with cheese? I guess anything is related to dairy when you start adding sheep—which is exactly what an avant-garde British theater recently decided to do. That’s right: King Lear With Sheep, a production featuring one man and eight sheep, recently premiered in Sussex. Suffice it to say that this wasn’t the most line-accurate rendition of the play.
Rather than trying to turn soulful baas into a soliloquy, writer and director Missouri Williams tells the story of a director of a production of King Lear growing increasingly angry with his non-compliant cast. Is it just him? The reviews are glowing, after all (“Functional,” Guardian; “Apt,” Independent). This director (played by Alasdair Saksena) mirrors King Lear’s own failure to control his surroundings and falls to a similar tragic madness. Of course, the mood (and smell) of everything is changed by his eight castmates.
For those of us who took AP English in high school (Hi Mrs. Abrahamsson!), its easy to see the thematic connections. Insanity, communication breakdowns, insubordination—it’s all there. Instigating it all is Cordelia’s choice of silence over flattery. Something tells me that silence is rather convincingly done by sheep-Cordelia.
Given the critical success of King Lear With Sheep, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see more livestock theater. Maybe Rome-ox and Ewe-liet? Ant-ony and Cow-opatra? Taming of the Shrew? (Sorry, way too easy.) Much Emu About Nothing? I can go on (and will: Sea Urchin of Venice, Dove’s Labrador Lost, Winter’s Tail, Hamlet… ok I’m done).