"I am better than thou art now: I am a fool, thou art nothing." (Act I, Scene 4)

Bethan Cullinane (Globe, 2014) Forbes Masson (Headlong, 2008) and Graham Turner (RSC, 2016) join Dr Lucy Munro (King’s College London) to discuss their approach to playing the role of the Fool, one of King Lear’s most loyal subjects.

Saturday 19 November 2016, Barbican Theatre

Review by Jessica Acton, MA Shakespeare Studies.

Lucy Munro facilitated a relaxed yet informative discussion on the character of the Fool in King Lear, primarily in relation to three actors’ experiences of playing the role in different recent productions. Whilst the actors were talking about performing with different companies in different theatres, they were frequently united in their opinions of characterisation and the play as a whole. Discussion focused around the relationship between Lear and the Fool, themes of love, loyalty, madness and grief, with the actors noting the difficulties of playing a supposedly humourous character in a deeply tragic play. The notions of truth and the human condition were also touched upon, with all participants asserting Shakespeare’s continuing relevance to these issues.

Much like the Fool, the actors were humourous and honest about their experiences, with Masson complaining about having to wait around in a damp costume after the storm scene, and Cullinane noting an audience member’s assertion that the Fool should be played by an older, male actor. Turner also admitted that at times he still struggled with grasping the meaning of some of Shakespeare’s more complex linguistic conceits, a problem many audience members could also relate to.

The actors not only illuminated aspects of the Fool’s characterisation and his role within the play, but also highlighted practical issues such as working with cut and revised texts, costume changes, the doubling of roles, and pros and cons of audience interaction. As an individual studying Shakespeare primarily from an academic viewpoint, it was an invaluable insight into how theatre practitioners approach not only individual roles, but also working with Shakespeare’s text in the context of modern theatre.