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#King Lear: A world where race doesn’t matter?

Thrilling, moving, visceral – at some point you run out of words to explain the feelings that run through you after watching Michael Buffong’s stunning adaptation of King Lear.

The dark, modern soundscape, the ridiculously good set design, the racially diverse cast, the fantastic acting – all of it combined to make this famous tale of a mad father and his warring offspring an exhilarating and immersive experience.

Afterwards the audience was granted the chance to remain behind for a Q & A session with the director and cast – an unexpected treat, and one that sparked plenty of engaging conversation as the likes of Don Warrington (the lead) and Michael Buffong (director) shared nuggets about the production’s journey from conception to reality.

A particularly interesting point raised during the discussion involved the issue of race.

Michael Buffong is black, as is half the cast he used for this adaptation, a choice that factored into his decision to stage the play in the traditional period of pre-Christian Britain, rather than following the recent trend of placing Shakespeare’s works in more contemporary settings.

“I wanted for it to be that this royal family, the king and his daughters, could be black without it feeling like a thing”, Buffong said. A goal the play successfully achieved.

The viewing experience felt so immediate and vivid that the race of the characters became, well, not invisible exactly, but something else – transfigured. Like the meaning of skin colour had been translated into another reality, a kind of folklorish apocryphal context between here and fantasy which made the production, somehow, feel both old and modern at the same time.

It raises questions about how race can be used in other storytelling media – film, television, literature etc.

When should the race of the actor, and therefore the character, be considered important to an authentic telling of a story, and when shouldn’t it be?

For example: When we see Idris Elba play the Norse god, Heimdall – a traditionally white character – in a Marvel movie, for many it feels utterly right. Yet when we consider whether he should be the next James Bond, a character from an aristocratic Scottish background, we’re perhaps conflicted.

The question is why?

When is race relevant to the drama, and when is it not? Always? Never? Somewhere in between?

And what exactly governs whether a story – on screen or in print – can be said to have been authentically told?

In other words, when it comes to film, theatre, TV, books or even comics – should a character’s race matter at all?

Full review: Click here

TNT Entertainment Micah Yongo

 

Photo credit: TalawaTheatreCo

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