views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

King Lear Retold
Greenwich Theatre
6th February 2018


Debs Newbold

Photography provided by Debs Newbold

Watching Debs Newbold recount King Lear is a magical experience. Emotional, immersive and fun, this one-woman show invokes feelings of delight and pain, while providing the audience with a healthy dose of humour. If any friends have proclaimed Shakespeare inaccessible, take them to one of Newbold's shows. Not only will they become enthralled, but they may well find themselves chanting in Shakespearean language.

If you're not familiar with the language of the Bard, though, do not fear. Newbold tells the story of King Lear in her own words, seamlessly switching to Shakespeare's original text for direct quotes when appropriate. By this point, you are so caught up in the emotion of it all that you hardly notice the change in style.

As we've pointed out before, not only does Newbold know her Shakespeare, she also understands how to portray the story in a way that feels relevant to a modern audience without cheapening it. She doesn't reset the tale in a different time or place, but she does use present-day references and language to comic effect. Lear's daughters auditioning for the best bits of the Kingdom is like The Apprentice, except with greater 'constitutional consequences.' Edmund is referred to as someone who grew a beard just to stroke it (we all know that person). And the terrible fighting between Goneril and Regan is made clear because no battle is worse than the one by 'two sisters who fancy the same bloke.'

Newbold doesn't wear a costume or use props. However, she does make creative use of what surrounds her. A coat in the audience is used to illustrate colour. A single chair on the stage is used for sound, as well as walking around and sitting. (Duh!) The audience's hands and legs create the weather (don't panic, you receive clear instructions). Perhaps one of Newbold’s greatest strengths and a quality that all true storytellers possess is that she instinctively and effortlessly (or at least it seems that way) carries the audience with her and reacts to them. If you squeal in delight when Edmund gets his just desserts, she will pick up on it immediately.

Newbold is a master of words and space. You forget that you are listening to a woman wearing ordinary clothing against an empty background. Instead, vivid images of castles, betrayal and battlegrounds flash before you. Newbold manages to simultaneously immerse you in the story, while also adding her own additional commentary. Shakespeare 'really liked letters' we are informed. Edmund is a 'typical Shakespearean villain.'

I enjoyed this retelling so much more than most elaborate, fancily staged, large-scale productions, which just goes to prove that you don't need big budgets and West End venues to stage a good show. And that, my friends, is exactly why this website exists: to highlight the best of the arts that you might not otherwise have heard of. While King Lear's short run at the Greenwich Theatre is now over, Newbold's retelling will pop up again towards the end of the year in Radstock and Dorchester and it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for new London dates. It may even be worth travelling outside the M25 just to see Newbold in action...

King Lear Retold ran from 5th to 6th February 2018 at Greenwich Theatre. The show is currently touring around the UK.

Nearest tube station: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)

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