Lear’s Fool

Kibble Palace, Botanic Gardens, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four stars

If a king can’t follow rules, suggests Lear’s Fool turned gamesmaster to her old boss and his daughter at one point in David Henry Wilson’s play, it will be chaos. Wise words indeed, as Wilson fills in the gaps of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy, as we see what became of Lear’s much loved jester following their disappearing act mid way through Shakespeare’s play. That this came just as the king descended into madness makes one even more curious.

Bundled into a cell by clearly smitten guard, John, Nicole Cooper’s Fool is always ‘on’, keeping up the act whatever. The Fool’s reflex tomfoolery is used to disguise a huge intellect, a way with a metaphor and much more besides. This goes unappreciated by some audiences, including John. As with every soothsaying comic, however, there is a lot of serious stuff going on behind the mask.

Wilson’s one act curio was first seen in 1994, and has been picked up for its Scottish premiere by the ever-exploratory Bard in the Botanics company. Jennifer Dick’s production brings the play to life with a depth that sees Cooper have huge amounts of fun as The Fool.

Even as Sam Stopford’s John is charmed and Johnny Panchaud’s Captain has the wool pulled over his eyes, a sadness comes through beyond the surface smiles. In mourning for the man known as Nuncle, a back-story is laid bare suggesting a whole new side to the duo’s relationship.

When Lear and Cordelia eventually turn up, the king’s madness, it seems, has been abated. The Fool’s exchanges with Finlay McLean’s Lear and Stephanie McGregor’s Cordelia are laced with familiar lines, as if Lear and The Fool were a double act holding on to well worn catchphrases for comfort. As assorted fates are sealed, the punchline, when it comes, is no laughing matter.