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Queen Lear review at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh – ‘moving portrait’

Alice Allemano, Jane Goddard and Mary McCusker in Queen Lear at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh. Photo: Adam Toussaint Alice Allemano, Jane Goddard and Mary McCusker in Queen Lear at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh. Photo: Adam Toussaint

Ronnie Dorsey has written a touching tribute to women’s ability to bond over shared pain and disappointment. Rather arbitrarily and unconvincingly, she has attached it to Shakespeare, to no great effect.

A queen is undergoing an extremely painful labour, tended by a devoted servant and a doctor – the latter has a secret that never really integrates with the rest of the play. As the queen’s pains become unbearable, she begs first that they kill her if necessary to save the baby and then just that they kill her. The other two wrestle with the implications of this and ultimately reach a decision.

It isn’t until more than halfway through the hour that we are told that this is the wife of Shakespeare’s Lear, and even later that we understand what is at stake as she is desperate to give him a son after three daughters.

Other than a passing mention of Lear being an unpleasant man and young Cordelia being bullied by her sisters, Queen Lear gains no resonances from the Shakespearean connection and offers none back.

Its strength lies in its portrait of a generic woman in physical and spiritual pain, and in the moving performances of Jane Goddard and Mary McCusker, as the all-but-helpless witnesses, and, especially, of Alice Allemano as the woman whose desperation drives her to welcome the death she fears.

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Moving portrait of dying woman gains nothing from the Shakespearean connection