You can wonder, but you can’t hide

by Nobuko Tanaka

As directed by Barry Kyle and performed by the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Company from London, this “King Lear” is no cobwebbed historical fable. In this, the company’s second visit to Japan (the last time was in 1998 with “As you like It”), they bring not only a classic drama but also the democratic spirit of Renaissance theater, where the audience participates, not just watches passively.

Julian Glover as Lear, King of Britain, and Tonia Chauvet as Cordelia, his youngest daughter, in the Globe Theatre’s “King Lear”

And the audience is involved from the first in this gripping drama of family feuds, misunderstandings and generation-gap clashes, as relevant for our contemporary world as it would have been at the original Globe in 1606.

Rifts separate a strict father (King Lear, played by Julian Glover) from his daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (played by Patricia Kerrigan, Felicity Dean and Tonia Chauvet, respectively). An ambitious illegitimate son (Michael Gould as Edmund) schemes mercilessly against his half brother (Paul Brennen as Edgar). These are families in crisis, and the consequence is breakdown and crime, just as in our modern days. Stark conclusions that the audience is given no refuge from.

Our sense of being put on the spot is increased because the house lights aren’t darkened when the play begins, and a huge light shines continually on the closed ceiling of Tokyo’s Globe to give the open-topped feeling of London’s Globe Theater.

The staging is simple, yet richly symbolic — is the wreath of flowers hanging over the center of the stage an image of heaven? Or Lear’s crown in his madness? Or a wreath mourning human loss?

The costumes express and extend the actor’s characterization: The three sisters meet their father in the first scene clad in orthodox dresses, but as the two older ones turn against their father, they change into black camisoles with a punk twist; their clothing, likewise, suggesting rebellion, even viciousness.

Together with these devices, the actors reach out directly to the audience in true Globe style. Edmund — the ingratiating schemer — is true to his character’s intent of winning people over by occasionally chatting up the audience in Japanese. Many entrances are made through the auditorium.

As a result, the audience is pulled right into the play. You might find yourself thinking about your own family, or a friend’s troubles discussed a few hours ago.

Don’t see this play alone, because you’re going to want to talk it over endlessly when you leave.

* Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London since it opened in 1997, 41-year-old Mark Rylance decides the company’s program and presentation, beside being one of England’s leading actors in his own right. He found time to talk to The Japan Times about the challenges of presenting the Bard in our times, the enigma of “Will I am Shakes-Speare” himself, and much more. His interview will appear in this Sunday’s edition.