“King Lear’s Fool’s Tale” – Morecambe – West End Playhouse. 24/7/2022
King Lear’s Fool’s Tale, written and performed by John D Slater, is a witty, intelligent and moving account of Shakespeare’s King Lear from the perspective of the Fool. Slater as Fool bumbles on to the stage crowned with flowers – like his offstage master – and engages the live audience with some deft comedy, helped by his marionette. Slater emulates the wit of Robert Armin (the actor who originally played the Fool), by opening up sharp questions about the ‘vanity’ of Shakespeare’s characters and contemporary public figures. Slater’s warm-hearted, northern Fool gives a sharp critique of the self-interests of Goneril, Regan, Burgundy and of Lear’s own attempt to commodify love, which ‘our Cordelia’ and the ‘typically romantic’ King of France reject. The Fool’s judgement is even-handed: he notes Goneril’s harsh response to Lear’s knights, but also wryly observes they ‘were rum ones’: out of order in their drinking and wenching.
Ultimately, what Slater’s performance brings out most powerfully is the love the Fool has for his master, ‘God bless him’. Gestures to the off-stage Lear, who has already gone mad and is making daisy chains, vividly invoke a vulnerable old man. Such is the intimacy of their bond that the Fool too appeared to be losing his wits. John Slater’s talents allow him to juggle all these aspects of the Fool, to create a poignant ending to the performance where the fragility of the future for Lear and the Fool, and more widely of comedy and compassion, becomes tangible.
As well as a reviewer, Alison Findlay is also Professor of Renaissance Drama and Director of the Shakespeare Programme in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University.