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English Director Stages Shakespeare Play with Sheep instead of Human Actors

A new adaptation of the Shakespeare classic King Lear features a bizarre cast – one human and nine sheep! 24-year-old Alasdair Saksena plays the human, a director who tries to persuade his cast of sheep to perform the tragedy. ‘King Lear with Sheep’ is, needless to say, every bit as absurd and hilarious as it sounds.

The play is the brainchild of actor Saksena, writer Missouri Williams, and producer Lucie Elven – all in their early 20s. The idea came about after Missouri, having worked on a tour of King Lear with a human cast, got sick of them. “There’s little references to sheep within the text that I think planted the idea in Missouri’s head,” Saksena said. “And so she decided to do King Lear with sheep and me. And I thought, you can’t really say no to that, can you?”

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According to Saksena, the reason why this adaptation works is the thin line between tragedy and comedy. “Lear is so tragic and sheep are so untragic that it just sort of works – it comes together and is either desperately sad or desperately funny depending on what mood is catching at that particular point of time,” he explained.

The original play sees Lear dividing his kingdom between his daughters – Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, demanding a confirmation of their love in return. Regan and Goneril resort to flattery, while Cordelia refuses to indulge in his father’s childish desire. As a result, she is banished from the kingdom.

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Photo: Missouri Williams/Twitter

“Sheep are silent and Cordelia is silent at the beginning of the play,” Saksena remarked. “Having that silence directly confronted with animals really pinpoints the absurdity of Lear’s reaction and the absurdity of Cordelia’s unwillingness to speak at the beginning. All she needed to do was to say a few words of flattery, dishonest as they would be, and her dad could have kept the kingdom.”

According to Saksena, working with sheep isn’t as difficult as one would imagine. “It’s the same thing as acting with people, really,” he said. “I was rehearsing with them this morning, and they do sort of respond to their names. I think because they’re so used to looking out for predators that they see your eyes and they know where you’re looking. So if you say their name, they’ll look back at you.”

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Photo: Time-Out London

“They don’t have a script, so they think everything’s improv,” Saksena said, explaining that the play is “a sort of jumble between my ideas, Missouri’s ideas, and Shakespeare’s words.” With such an unpredictable cast, each show is a leap into the unknown.

A review in The Telegraph reveals that the sheep in the play aren’t new to show business – they have impressive resumés with previous appearances on The Apprentice, Good Morning Britain, and the title of ‘Best Cross-Bred Ewe’ at the Lambeth Country Show in 2014. “Saksena risks being upstaged at every turn by his ovine co-stars,” the review reads. “The sheep refuse to perform, causing the director to lash out at his silent stars, especially Cordelia. ‘Nothing will come of nothing, speak again,’ he rails. The odd bleat here and there convinces you that they have perfect comic timing.”

 

“You’re not likely to see a more talented flock of sheep onstage this year,” the review adds. “A ewe-nique production.”