Susanna Hamnett: Why a Female Fool?
Experience King Lear through the eyes of a (female) Fool.
Susanna Hamnett brings her unique twist to the father/daughter dynamic to 24th ST this weekend. I asked her why a Female Fool?
Once Edith (the director) and I had decided that this was going to be a solo retelling of the piece, we followed the clown principle of honesty, reasoning that it was too great a leap to ask the audience to accept that the whole story was being told by a man - when I am quite clearly a woman. So we built on that acknowledgement of the truth. Noreen is a woman disguised as a man. And then we began to see how that simple starting place worked into the themes of fathers and daughters and how seeing the story through her eyes brought a necessarily more female perspective into the telling. We also realized that there is speculation that the fool and Cordelia were played by the same actor in Shakespeare's time, and so the device felt somehow supported by that too. Then we began to explore the underlying relationship between Noreen and her father and how that resonated throughout the piece. And because in the necessary cutting down of the play to a size that was possible for a solo telling we had chosen to focus on the father/daughter theme and not on the Gloucester and his sons part of the story, it just made sense to us that the storyteller would be a woman. We also liked the nod to the Shakespearean device that so often has girls having to disguise themselves as men in order to make their way in the world of his plays.
My favourite reaction to Nearly Lear, was when I was on tour with my whole family. We were traveling around England and Scotland and playing in remote country village halls. I loved it so much, as the whole - often very small and intimate - community would come, and so there was another layer of play that occurred as the audience members reacted to each others' reactions. One evening, at a certain point when I put my umbrella down and go into the audience (spoiler alert!), a tough elderly character called Jane stomped onto the stage and took the umbrella back to her seat and refused to give it back. It was wonderful, as everyone there knew that you just don't mess with Jane - but I had to 'take her on' or the story couldn't have moved forward. Such fun!