When we think of Shakespeare we are drawn to his words and poetic form, but how often do we see a production through the images that are created from the text? Polish theatre company Song of the Goat are no strangers to depicting Shakespeare’s texts as anything but words – in their production of Macbeth they found nuances in the breath and rhythms of music to drive their production, and in their latest offering Songs of Lear the company paint the stage space with song and voice that evokes the landscape of Shakespeare’s text. Gathered in a horseshoe shape and wearing black formal wear, the company sing in harmonic and rhythm-generated form to bring the story of Lear before us.
It’s a complex piece, especially as it borders between art forms, never quite feeling theatrical but not strictly a musical concert either. The piece offers an insight into the raw and emotive nature of Song of the Goat’s training and method for working. Using their voices as instruments, they sing with a harshness and brutality, but equally from a heavenly place. It’s easy to see how the Church calls forth their choirs to take the congregation closer to God, for it is through the beauty of song that we feel elevated, and this is exactly what Songs of Lear does. Lifting the audience to a higher ground, the company sings to beautiful and devastating effect, calling images and pictures before us that represent King Lear. It’s episodic, and whilst there are introductions to each ‘movement’ by director Grzegorz Bral, the story of Lear is never quite realised, with Songs of Lear painting an essence of a play instead.
The company at times break into physical portrayal of the songs, their dancing and movement echoing in the main hall at Summerhall. It feels as if, given the chance, the company would break formation and dive their bodies into the work, using their bodies to explore the songs that erupt from the ensemble. This desire for movement is realised through small but intimate character connections – they dance or hold each other. There was one moment when goosebumps overwhelmed me, with two of the ensemble sitting on chairs and lamenting, their voices reaching dizzying heights and sending shiver after shiver down my spine. This wasn’t just song, this was untapped raw emotion.
Whilst it is clear that the work is still very much within the early stages of development, Songs of Lear still echoed within me long after the work was performed. Within the rawness of the work comes a sense of understanding and development, with Song of the Goat touching upon the ancestral nature of Shakespeare’s work. The images conjured through song were like ghosts appearing at night, their forms faint and transparent before they disappeared entirely. Early in development it might be, but haunting nonetheless.
**** – 4/5 stars
Songs of Lear is playing at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 24 August. For more information and tickets, see the Summerhall website.