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10th June 2023

Review: Lear

HER Productions’ gender-swapped adaptation of King Lear is brilliantly subversive and phenomenally acted – but it could be better structured
Review: Lear
Christine Mackie and the company. Photo: Shay Rowan

Her Productions is an all-female and non-binary theatre company based in Manchester. Their latest production is Shakespeare’s King Lear, directed by Kayleigh Hawkins and starring Christine Mackie (Corrie‘s Dr. Susan Gaddas) as the titular role.

Despite its all-female and non-binary cast, the production did not go about changing pronouns or names of characters. Despite being played by a woman, Lear was still ‘King’.

Both modern and classic plays tend to have male-heavy casts and, in trying to balance them, I find theatre directors tend to overly complicate things by changing the names and personalities of male characters to allow women to play them. This sometimes works but I find gender-blind casting much more effective, simply allowing people of any gender to play any character without having to make drastic changes to scripts. As someone with a background in acting myself, I have always wished to play some of the male characters and been dismissed.

Mackie was phenomenal as Lear, perfectly portraying his madness in a manner that in equal parts gained laughter and sympathy from the audience.

Alice Proctor and Haylie Jones as brothers Edgar and Edmund respectively were also standout performances. Jones delivered Edmund’s speeches about his illegitimate status with both vitriol and playfulness. Proctor was brilliant to watch playing mad in Edgar’s ‘Poor Tom’ disguise, as well as tender-hearted in Edgar’s reunion with his now-blind father.

Something interesting I picked out in this production was two instances of typically feminine fashion items being used as weapons. Edgar strangles Goneril’s servant, Oswald, with the strap of her purse. Meanwhile, in the iconic eye-gouging scene that many associate the original with, the Duke of Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s eyes with the heel of her shoe. You could hear the audience shudder as this happened. Whether intentional or not, this was an effective motif and it would have been interesting to see even more murders occur this way.

I do feel the production could have been better divided. Of course the eye-gouging scene is the most memorable part of any production of King Lear but it occurs quite late in the play, all the way into act 4 out of 5, and yet this was the point the first half of the production ended with. This lead to a very long first act and a mismatched, very short second act. I feel a better place to end the first half would be when Lear was caught in the storm.

For those unfamiliar with the play, I do feel it might have been difficult to trace the relationships of the characters, for example which of the characters were the ‘husbands’ of the sisters. The affairs Edmund has with both Goneril and Regan do not occur until quite late in the play but it felt as if there was little sexual tension in either of these scenarios.

Every fight scene was entertaining to watch, although – and maybe this is a little morbid of me – I would have liked to see more fake blood, since it is a revenge tragedy after all.


Lear runs at Hope Mill Theatre until June 18 before transferring to Shakespeare North Playhouse from June 21 to 24.

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