JACK LEAR - THE HUMBER'S KING FOR THE 21ST CENTURYMon 28th January 2019
Why was I surprised when the actors started speaking in blank verse? This play is a reworking of Shakespeare's King Lear by Ben Benison, directed and performed by the renown Barrie Rutter and an illustrious cast, in a Hull accent, with music by the acclaimed Yorkshire musician Eliza Carthy. I, like so many of us locals, have fond memories of Barrie's Northern Broadsides (which was founded by Hull-born Barrie in 1992 and which he resigned from last year) and other productions. In fact, I still have visions of his Malvolio, yellow breeches and all (Twelfth Night), remember fondly his admirable Richard III and, indeed, recall the dramatic staging of King Lear.
Jack Lear (Rutter) owns a fleet of trawlers and other craft along with some property. He has three daughters. We do not know whether the girls' mother has died or left him, but we know he is single and was a jack-the-lad back in the day as it seems that even his illegitimate offspring are girls, too! However, hos daughters aren't treated any differently to how boys would have been treated and they are brought up to work on the boats as deck-hands - and given names which, although girl's names, are shortened to be men's. So Morgana (Nicola Sanderson) becomes Morgan, Freda (Sarah Naughton) becomes Fred and Victoria (Olivia Onyehara) is Vic.
Now he is getting old, Jack decides to divide his empire between his daughters. All he wants is to be looked after in his old age, but when Vic says she can't promise him anything, he disowns her and divides his estate between Morgana and Freda. They employ local lawyer and gigolo, Edmund (Andy Cryer) to prepare the paperwork. He, of course, knows the extent of the riches the girls will inherit.
The set, designed by Kate Unwin, includes a ship's sail which is used to project images of waves to connect the audience with the sea, accompanied by Eliza Carthy's live percussion (performed by the actors who are not on stage) which further engages the audience and reminds us of times when fishing was not all calm seas and blue skies.
This production is funny at times, includes some (pretend) audience participation, contrasts between real and mythical and includes a well-known Mike Waterson folk song, Three Day Millionaire, which had a few people singing along. Because the late Mike was a Hull lad, too, and he understood the challenges of working in the fishing industry. Trawler owners were treated like Kings when their boats came home full of fish, especially as fishing was such a dangerous occupation, but they were only one step away from tragedy. Jack Lear manages to avoid the dangers of the sea, but his life is still tragic.