Actors From the London Stage (AFTLS) proves that when it comes to the Bard the minimal may be maximal.
Reviewed by Caldwell Titcomb
Shakespeare’s challenging “King Lear” is the vehicle for this year’s fall tour of the troupe called Actors From the London Stage (AFTLS). This project was begun in 1975, and has been flourishing ever since, with impressive results. Wellesley College has brought the AFTLS back for the fourth year in a row (we saw “Hamlet” in 2006, “Macbeth” in 2007, and “The Winter’s Tale” last year). Wellesley is the third stop in a schedule that sees the company visiting ten U.S. campuses for a week each, conducting workshops and seminars with students, and offering several public performances of a Shakespeare play.
Each drama is performed by only five artists (three actors and two actresses) – all experienced and distinguished Shakespeareans from England. That means that each player handles multiple roles, the shifts indicated by a change of diction or of a sash or hat. The five remain on stage throughout, sitting on stools on the sidelines when not speaking. There are no elaborate sets and only minimal props.
Thus the emphasis is on Shakespeare’s spoken words, and much is left to the audience’s imagination. There is no director, and the quintet spend several weeks in London collectively working out the blocking and delivery in rehearsal.
Owing to the renovation of Wellesley’s Alumnae Hall, this year’s performances take place in Houghton Chapel, whose acoustics are less suitable for live theater. But the players make the best of the venue, speaking the Bard’s language as naturally as breathing.
Terence Wilton, on his fifth AFTLS tour, is an admirable Lear, and has several exceptional moments (“Hear me, recreant!,” “O, reason not the need!”). He also plays Lear’s sons-in-law Albany and Cornwall. Rina Mahoney, who acted in the 2005 tour, is back as Lear’s daughters Cordelia and Goneril, and is better with the sweet former than the venomous latter; she also handles Oswald. Caroline Devlin, on her third tour, is both the third daughter Regan and the Fool.
Dale Rapley is fine as the two older gents, Gloucester and Kent. Richard Neale brings intensity to the young brothers, the trusting Edgar and the villainous Edmund; and it is quite a feat when Neale climactically enacts a duel between the two; he also portrays Cordelia’s suitors, France and Burgundy.
All five players wear neutral gray garb. To indicate change of character, they use red, purple or white scarves; wool or tilted caps or a top hat; a pair of glasses. Three movable black cubic boxes denote shift of locale. From time to time sound effects emanate from a large tabor or mouth organ (usually played by Devlin).
The US tour will continue at the following universities around the country:
University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) | September 28 – October 4, 2009
University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas) | October 5-11, 2009
Schreiner University (Kerrville, Texas) | October 12-18, 2009
Butler University (Indianapolis, Indiana) | October 19-25, 2009
Montgomery County Community College (Blue Bell, PA) | October 26 – November 1, 2009
DePauw University (Greencastle, IN) | November 2-8, 2009
Berea College (Berea, Kentucky) | November 9-15, 2009
The choice for the AFTLS’s fall tour next year is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” followed by “The Tempest” in 2011, “The Merchant of Venice” in 2012, and “Othello” in 2013. The troupe is welcome any time.