Edgar: King Lear's homeless son
A few years ago at the RSC, watching a production of King Lear, the finely dressed bourgeois, middle-aged couple sitting next to me declared at the interval: 'It's very good, isn't it but do we have to have all that Poor Tom stuff?'
I saw red, inwardly railed and shook my fist... and was reminded of former Tory Prime Minister John Major complaining about theatregoers having to see the real homeless people of London when on a night out on the Southbank.
In the original 1608 quarto to King Lear, Lear and Edgar's story are given equal billing:
M. William Shak-fpeare:
True Chronicle Historie of the life and death of King LEAR and his three Daughters.
With the unfortunate life of Edgar, fonne and heire to the Earl of Gloster, and his fallen and affumed humor of TOM of Bedlam.
In performance Edgar's lines are nearly always cut and yet they are part of a very deliberate pattern and mirroring of Lear's physical and spiritual homelessness. As
Prof. Ewan Fernie once said, Edgar is the 'poet laureate' of homeless.
A rather cross message on Twitter declaring that the next production should cut King Lear, saw the offer from the writer, Rebekah Owens, to work with me on doing just that. The script we developed was taken on by the wonderful and much missed Robert Ball, Artistc Director of Fred Theatre Company, Birmingham.
There was a great deal of developmental work put into the production including read-throughs with the company, back-projections, costume design, and Robert's networking with collaborators for establishment of venues and workshops. This was to be a site specific production with the local homeless community in an outdoor space in Birmingham. Unfortunately, the space booked was abruptly closed after a tragic incident, and the initial performance planned for World Homelessness Day fell through.
Neither Robert, Becky or I stopped believing in the play, especially after the marked emotional impact it had on those involved in the read-throughs.
Pandemics and the tragic loss of Robert himself turned our worlds upside-down. Now, I'm turning back to our play about Edgar, entitled 'Blessed Spear' (the meaning of Edgar's name). I'll be rewriting it as a screenplay and theatre script.
The real-life situation for homelessness has become far worse since the initial concept than we could have possibly imagined; our leaders more negligent, indifferent to the suffering of the poor, and more morally bankrupt than we could have believed just five years ago.
Full credit will go to Becky, without whom the initial script for Blessed Spear wouldn't have happened, and we shall dedicate the initial screenings and performances to our dear friend, Robert.