Royal first for Traquair

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One of the Great Bard’s most challenging plays will be tackled by promenade theatre group Shakespeare at Traquair.

Actors, musicians, drummers, and prop and costume makers are currently busy preparing for King Lear, the first time the team have taken on the fast-moving drama in its 18-year history.

It famously explores the madness and ruin of an archetypal king, but also explores conflicts and strains of family life.

A Shakespeare at Traquair spokesman said: “It is about children and parents who want the impossible from each other. It’s about the rivalry between brothers and sisters. And perhaps because the play is about family life, it is easy to relate to.

“It tells the story of a King, maddened by his daughters, who journeys into the dark underbelly of his kingdom.

“He begins to understand what life is like for the poor and homeless.

“He is offered support along the way, by the Earl of Gloucester, who is punished for his help by being blinded. The profound darkness of this modern ancient play is shot through with flashes of lightness and touches of humour, with song, proverb and still-familiar rhyme.”

Shakespeare at Traquair was started back in 1995 by Judy Steel and Richard Nisbet as part of a campaign to open an arts venue in Peebles – realised nine years later with the Eastgate Theatre.

For this production, the Traquair team have managed to carefully cut the piece into a two-and-a-half hour evening show within the house’s grounds.

Among the cast is Anna Ludwig, a music therapist by day, but at Traquair she is a harpist to King Lear, hornist to his daughter Regan and general bawdy banqueting guest.

She said: “The cast and crew of Shakespeare at Traquair are fantastic to work with. I’ve played for more than 20 years with various orchestras and ensembles so this is a real change for me as a musician, and a real challenge, but I’m loving every minute of it.”

So with three weeks to go, how is the play shaping up? Who better to ask than King Lear himself – or the man who plays him over two weeks in the Borders.

Matt Davies told us: “To play King Lear is a huge honour and a bigger challenge. He is a complex man, wrapped up in power and insecurity. 

“This production brilliantly uses musicians and singers to create the environment in which the action takes place, and the turmoil going on in Lear’s mind. 

“It’s a big, fast-paced and exciting show. Great fun to be in and brilliant to watch.”

Already, the play has earned rare reviews from Olivia Roper, performing arts co-ordinator with Scottish Borders Council, who wrote: “A black forecast in May and June for Traquair as the Borders is gripped by the brooding storm that is Shakespeare’s King Lear.

“This well edited promenade performance, directed by Fiona Forsyth and cleverly placed in the grounds of Traquair House, near Innerleithen, sets the bar for community theatre.”

King Lear runs from Wednesday, May 29 to Saturday, June 1, and Wednesday, June 5 to Saturday, June 8, at 7.30pm each night. Tickets are available from the Eastgate Theatre – phone 01721 725777.