She She Pop & Their Fathers: Testament


Samuel Beckett Theatre ****

A brisk introduction, a modest fanfare and the ageing King Lear takes his throne. Eagerly anticipating his retirement plan (an unburden’d crawl towards death), Lear addresses himself to his darker purpose: dividing his kingdom among three daughters, appointing shares to whoever can shout her love the loudest. Watching three genuine fathers, in the springtime of their senescence, take to their own thrones – mismatching armchairs on a lightly suggested livingroom set – you immediately appreciate the playful depth of thought that She She Pop has put into this formally adventurous, slyly affecting piece of reality theatre.

Part text analysis, part self-analysis, the German company’s production explores Shakespearean archetypes as enduring models of contemporary psychology. That may sound like a needlessly dry interpretation of four female performers manning a flip chart and video projections while wearing jaunty Elizabethan ruffs. But the heady pleasure of Testamentis that you can have a lot of fun while being very smart: if life imitates art, even a karaoke version of Something Stupidcan be archly political.

Introducing King Learas a play about “inheritance and betrayal, old age and decline”, Ilia Papatheodorou risks essentialising the drama for the sake of a handy schematic (at the risk of sounding unnecessarily reductive, King Learis about everything). But if that means paring the dramaturgical framework right back, you have to start from somewhere. As Lear himself memorably says, “ Aus Nichts kann nichts entspringen” – “Nothing will come of nothing.”

Indeed, one of the pleasures of the show is seeing the play’s logic expressed in a contemporary German idiom, which is to say an enjoyably deadpan reductio ad absurdum. When Manfred Matzke, a clear-sighted rationalist who is anti-conflict, interrupts the performance with an economic analysis of Lear’s errors (“The answer is given to us by this system of differential equations . . . ”) it isn’t just funny; it recognises the fathers as contributors to the show’s dramaturgy. Even the show’s process becomes an illustration of filial conflict and threatened parental dignity, a poignant illustration of generational succession.

Nowhere is this more quietly unsettling than when the fathers question the ethics of exposing their lives to an audience, or the honesty of their daughters. In this Lear, nobody wants to play the Fool. It leads to an astonishing moment in which one father expresses “shame and embarrassment” for his daughter’s performance art. “We are now in the storm scene,” announces Lisa Lucassen, understandably.

Such genuine clashes make the participation of these fathers both brave and moving, a compact that ensures not even a line dance will compromise their dignity. They may not tell you anything new about Shakespeare’s play, but She She Pop’s bold and touching experiment lets the play tell us something new about ourselves.

Ends tomorrow