Like any good tragedy, Shakespeare’s Lear weaves a tale unrelenting disaster and despair. The shameless curtain call taken by both Johnson and Cameron has left a power vacuum to be filled by their less talented understudies Gove and May.
In a final wish of vanity, Lear demands three public declarations of love from each of his daughters. In exchange the King intends to bestow them with a section of his British Kingdom. Gove’s sudden ‘Et Tu Brute’ scuppered Johnsons assured ascension to No. 10 just as swiftly as Cordelia’s denial of her father’s hysterical whims.
Goneril and Regan’s sycophantic pandering call to mind the baseless promises made by Johnson and Farage during the campaign. The promise to give the NHS £350 million, so swiftly retracted on the morning of the result, falls equally foul of Kent’s exclamation to the false sisters, ‘your large speeches may your deeds approve’.
Even the production’s particular casting choices hang heavy with irony. A collaboration of Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic’s Theatre School sought to devise a space where younger cast members could learn from the more experienced, a sentiment not shared in the generation gap between leave and remainers. Timothy West (Lear), Stephanie Cole (the Fool) and David Hargreaves (Gloucester) all made their debut at the Old Vic in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The old-timers led a group of sixteen youthful cast members, and this synthesis of old and young creates brilliant cast. Yet like Lear’s refusal to renounce his power, many young voters feel the voting of an older generation have tarnished their European future.
The play culminates in Lear cradling the dead body of his only loyal but disinherited daughter, Cordelia, an ending often revised for audiences made uncomfortable by its woe. Yet just as Boris and Dave hold their broken careers, the political climate at the moment cannot be revised like a play production. The decision to leave the EU cannot be rewritten or restaged, the decision to leave has marked a tragic moment in history.
Elena Angelides- Theater Editor