Education & Community Programs Coordinator
What do you get when you cross a serious love of Shakespeare with a serious talent for clowning? The answer is Nearly Lear, our upcoming Family Festivities performance which will close out the Winter at the Playhouse season. A one-woman tour-de-force, Nearly Lear is an adaption of Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece King Lear, using the techniques of physical theater, clowning and storytelling, coupled with music, film and Shakespeare’s magnificent language. Susanna Hamnett, the co-creator of the show and its star, describes herself as both an actor and a clown, and brings an eclectic and zany mentality to her work, with influences ranging from vaudeville to Russian literature, which she read at Cambridge.
In Hamnett’s adaptation, the story is narrated by a newly-created character, Norris, the king’s fool. In true Shakespearean fashion, however, Norris is actually Noreen: desperate for work, Noreen has disguised herself as a boy in order to land the coveted job of royal fool. Hamnett also plays all of Shakespeare's other characters in the drama, using minimal but imaginative scenery and props.
Nearly Lear, despite its off-the wall approach and hilarious moments, still manages to remain true to Shakespeare’s text. In her work, Hamnett maintains that Shakespeare’s themes are themes that flow through our own lives and which are enduring and current: we face them now, too. Hamnett writes, “Shakespeare writes about the most vital and important things that can ever happen to a human being.”
In King Lear, Shakespeare takes us from the cruel, to the tender, along with the magnificent, banal, funny and complex. In her own work, Hamnett makes it clear that these emotions and experiences are familiar and approachable not only for adults but for young audiences and those previously inexperienced with Shakespeare. "I've worked with children as young as grade one who have plunged into telling the stories of Shakespeare—especially the tragedies—with enormous gusto and relish, and who loved the sounds of the words, the moral dilemmas, the juxtaposition of good and evil, and the chance to tell a big story with big, bold, un-everyday strokes. I think we need to be taken out of the television way of telling stories sometimes - and Shakespeare tells us stories that we love and need to know."
Nearly Lear, in Hamnett's performance, makes it clear that Shakespeare really is for everyone, and that even in the midst of the deeply tragic, we can find humor and beauty, and mischief. What could be truer for us as humans, or a better story for a clown to explore?
Join us on Sunday, April 1 at 4pm for Nearly Lear and a roller coaster ride deep into Shakespearean fun. Nearly Lear is appropriate for all audiences ages 9 and up.