King Lear in the East End

Monday 20 September 2010

This is the last week in which the 2 shows rehearse together in Bethnal Green. I really enjoy the proximity to The Duenna: they seem to be having a good time together, working hard, and finding an excellent piece of lyric theatre in Sheridan’s only opera. There was a day with orchestra last week, and the sounds filtering up to the 4th floor (where I am rehearsing Promised End, the new opera setting King Lear) were lovely.

We had a couple of days in the east end with Aurora Orchestra, who are playing for Promised End: really exciting! The sound world is extraordinary, and the players are terrific.

We don’t half traipse around the place, though: one day was in a very ramshackle, attractive place in Brick Lane, which must have been a butcher’s, and another in the friendly People Show (convenient for lunch at Pellicci’s!), before returning to the Buddhist Arts Centre further east. Having taken up a little genealogical research lately, this shifting about is especially interesting for me: the butcher’s was next door the flat my great great grandparents shared after marriage, and in the area off Roman Road many other distant relations lived before the war. Sometimes after rehearsal I walk about looking for the places, but most have disappeared.

Promised End is wonderfully distilled. That makes it complex to rehearse: we have to unpack every line, and then pack every gesture. Finally, you want the effect to be simple and apposite, and you want the drama to be clear.

We have talked a lot about surtitles, and decided against them. Inevitably, as it is sung, not every word will be understood immediately; that said, it will not help one to FEEL the whole piece to be looking at a distillation of Shakespeare’s already complex text instead of watching the performers who should be bringing it to life. There are lots of ways of meaning. In truth, very few people actually know King Lear. Although Goehr’s opera is – necessarily – a different thing to Shakespeare’s play, it would be great if people planning to come to it actually read the play again (or for the first time) before coming. That would be a very rich experience of our own culture.

I think I will eliminate a few props today! I went to a play of Buchner’s yesterday (not that there was much of Buchner left in it), and was so depressed by the bootless expense, the dreadful soundtrack, the lack of faith in actors and text, and the general fear of politics, that I feel like cutting away more. I expect Adam Wiltshire (excellent designer) will restrain me, prudently.

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