“As part of the Well-Read reading group, which I was introduced to by the Wellbeing team at Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea, I was invited to a performance of ‘King Lear’ by Susanna Hamnett at the Playground Theatre, the venue where the Well- Read group meets up! The Playground is one of those invaluable community venues, like diamonds scattered amongst the side streets and back alleys across London. A theatre imbedded in the local community.
The cliché for a one-person performance is of course, tour de force, but it was difficult to get around this cliché when presented with the sheer energy and clownish passion of Susanna Hamnett’s Lear.
Lear, like all tragedy, is botched comedy, and here the dark comedic aspects of the play were fully explored. The stupidity, the corrosive misjudgement that lies at the heart of the play were laid bare. And who better to give this account than the clown, the jester?
The ambiguity of the clown, always one jest away from heartbreak, permeates literature and popular culture. Clowns too can be sinister and menacing, as instanced in many a horror movie. Cruelty and jest never far apart.
Here the comedic aspect of tragedy was to the fore, though the sheer malign cruelty of both Regan and Goneril was displayed with relish. Punctuated with a direct engagement with the audience* and sprinkled with a gentle mocking of theatre conventions the performance sparkled with wit and tension.
But the essence of the truly tragic was never far from the performance. The conclusion, consisting of a home movie of father and daughter playing together, proved surprisingly moving in this context.
*My worst nightmare is being coerced into direct participation in any performance, and alas, momentarily, I became the centre of attention, but with such gentle good humour that it left no scars. And this represented a first for me, attending a performance where the performer knew my name. “
By Stan Moorcroft
Written in November 2023
Learn more about the Playground Theatre here and find current Volunteer Opportunities here!