Early in the production of King Lear: a matter of perspectives we looked at the options of our setting. The world in Shakespeare’s play is a rough one, one of storms and wars, and one where the gods don’t answer the many desperate prayers of the characters. We decided to reflect that not by going back in time, but by going forward, making it a post-apocalyptic world.
I talked with Jo van der Meij, our director and writer, and Karsten Baan, our costume and set designer, about this world and how it gets presented in every aspect of the play. Details, ranging from the character’s experience of the world, the establishment of hierarchy and practicality in clothing, make the World of King Lear exactly that: a world.
Back to zero
In post-apocalyptic world, you have no other choice than to go back to zero. Everything that we know tripped away and it is once again strength that decides who rules. People stay the same, human emotions keep playing a major role as they did and will in any age and environment, but when the outside world is as hostile as the world of King Lear, the stakes become even higher, enhancing the story we are telling.
When it comes to building that world, Karsten notes that “for one thing to be true, other things need to be true as well.” When you have to constantly be purifying water, boiling and filtering it. you need containers to drink from, as most of the items we use now in our everyday life will have perished, so you can use cups made from tin cans. Then you need people doing these sorts of tasks and a hierarchy starts forming from that. Lear would have become a leader not by being inspirational or descending from a royal bloodline, but by brute shows of force. And then you get to reflect this in the costumes and props that Lear wears and carries.
Raider Lear and the world around him
The world is reflected in the characters and their perspective, a not unimportant part of our show King Lear: a matter of perspective. In the starting monologues, the way these characters have lived really comes alive. Jo wrote different parts of the world into these perspectives, starting with Goneril’s knowledge on how to lead, King Lear focusing on the history of the Kingdom, Edmund knowing the perspective of the people living in the grit of it and Edgar, who grew up shielded but is eager to help. This way, the four characters that bring their perspectives to the audience, are able to shed some light on the world around them, in which they will step as soon as we dive into the Shakespearean of it all.
And all of these details will have to be taken into account when making the costumes, because how much the clothing of a character has been weathered will tell the audience how often the character has to go outside, a dangerous undertaking in a world of acid rain and where any cool breezes turn into ice storms in seconds.
We have had a lot of fun thinking all these small things out, and the love and energy we’ve poured into it really gets reflected in the final production.