Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chris Goode's KING PELICAN

Plymouth's Drum Theatre continues its inventive support of new writing with Chris Goode's King Pelican.
The play mines Chris Goode's long obsession with the works of Edward Lear, the little man roaming around the stage while words spew delicate streams from his mouth. It's a curious evening, Lear's sister Ann dying in a bed on an upper level and subsequently embarking on a series of letters from heaven, the downstairs Victorian drawing-room suddenly exploding, walls collapsing and water spouting to surround the drawing room, Lear's words becoming those of King Lear marooned on his island.
The play is the first that Chris Goode has ever sat down to write, an experience he disliked and vows never to repeat. For him, the theatre experience gains its magic from co-operation, actors sharing the synergy of creation. For a while Edward Lear voices his fears at speaking words before impressionable Johnny, the postboy who is the third member of the cast, because any words will be etched on the young man's brain, they are an unwarranted intrusion into his life.
The boy seeks exactly that kind of intrusion. He strips naked to demand Lear breaks through the carapace of Victorian conformity and look at him, finally placing Lear's hand onto his naked stomach. He returns in tight jeans on a skateboard, morphing unremarked, but for a surprised glance, into a twenty-first century man. The theatre is being brought into the audience's world, this shift in time supporting Lear's opportunities to break from the conformity and repression of Victorian culture.
The play sometimes seems to choke on its words, there are so many of them, but it is surprisingly gentle. Characters are portrayed with love. For Chris Goode (speaking after the show), admitting that one is naturally a sad person, that melancholy is the most dynamic stream in your life, is as significant as coming out gay, and Lear gets to portray both aspects of exictence.
At the close, a makeshift boat is erected and Lear and Johnny sail off in the guise of the owl and the pussycat. Much of the play on stage is visual in this way, not so much anchored to text. This element of play is quite freeing, and the end is a delight.