Sheffield Under the Stars actors take on Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear

A group of actors with learning disabilities have put together an exciting production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear.

By Julia Armstrong
Monday, 24th June 2019, 2:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th June 2019, 10:50 am
A production of King Lear Retold by Under the Stars, coming to the Crucible Studio, Sheffield

The cast are members of Under the Stars, a Sheffield arts and events charity for people with learning disabilities.

Drama and dance workshop manager Julie Thorpe said: “Some members of our cast had expressed the wish to explore Shakespeare's works. There were a couple who had done Shakespeare at school and had known a little about his works.

“A few were hesitant as they believed that the language and verse presented a problem.

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“We looked at how most people when first coming to Shakespeare find the text problematic but with a bit of perseverance it doesn't take too long to overcome and then we discover the delight of bearing witness to some of the most profound, exciting, insightful and enlightening stories ever written, unpicking Shakespeare’s words and formatting the story of love, deceit and greed.

“We went to see the live screening of Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear and the cast were so excited by it all they couldn’t wait to get started.”

Julie added: “The cast have put their own interpretation together so that they can understand what is being performed and any audience that come along to see the play will also understand the show.  

“It is still as exciting, dramatic and heartbreaking. The learners understand the tragedy that takes place and are fully aware of the context of the betrayal from the greed of the two sisters and the love of a daughter that is banished from the land.

“The story is so long that we had to cut it down and make it accessible for our learners to be able to perform. The story is very visual and quite shocking in some of the scene’s especially when Gloucester has his eye picked out by one of the scheming daughters.

“To help fill in the gaps the story is then told via a written storyboard which give’s our cast time for an interval and the audience can read a description of the interlude and sequences that build up to the war between England and France.”

The show has been a collective effort, said Julie: “The whole of the cast are very supportive of one another and when it comes to the war scenes they work as a real collaborative army to make the scene come to life.

“They help each other with lines, what the emotion is at each point along the way and also by having a bit of banter between themselves.”

She doesn’t know yet whether Under the Stars might tackle more of Shakespeare’s plays. “At the moment we are solely concentrating on running with this performance and are still enjoying it, so we haven’t as yet thought what our next project will be.  

“We have three drama groups that meet over the week and each one is doing something completely different.  When devising new work we always listen to the groups and tease out new ideas, sharing thoughts and experiences is part of the way we work.”

Julie said that Under the Stars was set up just over 10 years ago, initially for adults with learning disabilities who wanted a ‘proper’ nightclub. “It has grown over the years into a charitable organisation that provides meaningful engagement with adults in music, dance and drama.  

“We run daily workshops that provide fantastic opportunities for adults to be able to show their talents in a variety of places.

The workshops are all staffed by fully qualified artist, along with excellent support staff, creating an environment where adults with learning disabilities are celebrated, grow in confidence and unlock their hidden talents.”