Review: King Lear With Sheep at The Courtyard

Alasdair Saksena and Cordelia. Credit: Nick Morris

Alasdair Saksena and Cordelia. Credit: Nick Morris - Credit: Archant

Sheep add farce to tragedy of King Lear

The idea behind King Lear With Sheep is certainly novel – eight sheep from a city farm in Vauxhall bumping into each other on a stage in Hackney.

It’s also a brilliant way of blowing the cobwebs off the Jacobean play. An increasingly frantic director, played by Alasdair Saksena, tries to galvanise his rebellious sheep cast into performing the tragedy, but they refuse to take the bait.

The director is hurt and bewildered by Cordelia’s silence; his favoured little black sheep. As in Shakespeare’s play, she refuses to speak when he most needs her to – she will not declare her love and allegiance to him in terms he understands.

Alasdair Saksena is a serious actor, and he shines most as he veers from frustration to an increasing madness. He plays out the scenes wildly and alone, leaping from one end of the penned-in stage to the other – taking on the different parts and speeches in different voices – and ripping off his shirt, exposing his white flesh to the elements.

Perhaps inevitably, this play is far more farce than tragedy, with the sheep the stars of the show, dressed in miniature capes and coronets. As soon as they shuffle, bleating innocently on stage, the camera phones of the countryside-deprived inner-city audience snap out.

It’s entertaining, but the madness and the tragedy could be drawn out more. In one tender scene, snatched between laughs, Saksena clutches his Cordelia in his arms, his face turned up to the heavens, and asks, in a moment of terrible clarity, “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?”

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All in all, a daring performance - and one pulled off with panache.

Anna Behrmann

Rating: 4/5 stars

King Lear With Sheep will be having a second run at The Courtyard from September 23. Visit