What thoughts go through your head when you see a homeless man talking to himself? How do you feel about him? Is he a subject of pity or of irritation? Lear Alone provocatively confronts us with the reality of homelessness, isolation and mental illness amongst the elderly through the text of Shakespeare’s masterpiece about a legendary king.
The premise is simple – this is a one-man play about an old homeless man wandering the outdoors, talking to himself, everything he says is Lear’s dialogue from King Lear. By its nature, there are two simultaneous narratives – one is the internal drama inside our protagonist’s head, which reflects the story of Lear that we all learnt about in school. The other is the ‘real’ story – an elderly man, ignoring voice messages from his concerned sounding daughter, becomes homeless.
Though an unusual premise for a King Lear adaptation, Lear is actually perfect source material for an exploration of homelessness and isolation. Shakespeare’s character is a man whose circumstances cause him to lose everything – his kingdom, his family, his mind. The choice of using Lear’s dialogue challenges us with the idea that if a king can lose his home, anyone can. As Lear Alone progresses, we wonder what images and memories are playing in his mind and how they relate to his present situation. The obviously impeccable dialogue acts as a beautiful frosted glass through which we view the man’s story and are left to imagine.
The performer Edmund Dehne plays ‘Lear’ with grace and dignity. He captures the anger and childishness of the character, and the narrative arc of what he learns through the sorrow, pain and madness that he experiences. He offers us a way into this character that represents a population that we as a society often fail to understand and empathise with.
Lear Alone is a fascinating experiment in adaptation and theatre. It’s one of the boldest reworkings of Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, and succeeds in being a moving exposé of a pertinent issue.