“Lear Alone”, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

theSpaceTriplex – Studio
50 minutes
Group: And Tomorrow Theatre Company
Retrospective review: run finished.

23 August 2023
Jeremy Malies in Edinburgh


A jute Lidl bag, chair, blanket for a winding sheet and (a masterstroke) one of those tea towels with a map of the UK. This is all Edmund Dehne needs to project an actor who is being visited by recollections of playing the role and is not in his perfect mind. The memories are out of control; they are becoming too vivid and his own sanity is now compromised.

This is an outstanding piece of work but it’s difficult to decode, at least for me. Dehne impresses in the general technical sense (if I were casting the play I’d have him high on my audition list) but his real skill lies in unearthing new meanings that are relevant to the problems faced by his present-day character and by the elderly at large.

Dehne’s character is not totally abandoned. Dishevelled, I supposed initially that he might be filthy and in a state of complete neglect with this being left to our imagination. But, as often in a compressed 50 minutes, I thought again. The piece is in no way prescriptive and audience members will have had many different experiences of it.

Occasionally Dehne is Fool to great effect with cloth cap and northern accent. Momentarily, his mind’s eye saw me as Kent and I longed to reach out to him such was the intensity of the acting. There is no Gloucester and, thankfully, we don’t go to Dover beach which might have thrown us all over the edge. “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” is as disturbing now as in the pre-Christian Britain that Shakespeare had in mind.

The choice of lines and their arrangement by the performer and director Anthony Shrubsall leave a lot to the spectator without being tricksy. My take is that there has been a temporary problem in his care. As his phone plays messages left by a daughter, we become hopeful but not over confident about the outcome.

It’s easy to see how common events as simple as thunder during a shopping trip might trigger him into re-enacting the play and turn his wits. When Dehne speaks of “houseless heads and unfed sides” you wonder if he has seen homeless people in his neighbourhood. The sound bleed of a trombone from another show and boisterous youngsters on Hill Place all played beautifully into the actor’s hands by suggesting potential triggers.

“Man’s life as cheap as beast’s …” made me think of instances of cruelty to the elderly not just in nursing homes but even in hospitals. Dehne proves skilled at finding additional irony in the First Folio text and often makes it more bleak.

“O, reason not the need” is the fulcrum as ever. Principle and kindness finally triumph but in a manner that should be kept under wraps. The play is the result of a collaboration with Crisis UK and has received funding from Arts Council England. It’s gruelling at times but vital as the burden of care for an ageing population looms larger.