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King Lear (Tse, 2006)

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King Lear

Lear hands over control of his global business empire to his daughters. In his Shanghai penthouse, he asks them to justify their inheritance. The older sisters flatter their father in elegant Chinese but English educated Cordelia, no longer fluent in her father’s tongue, says “Nothing” and the loss of face sends Lear into a spiral of fury and madness. This bold UK premiere of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy is given an exciting modern spin with Britain’s award winning YET and China’s contemporary SDAC, featuring Chinese movie star Zhou Yemang as Lear. Using video, music and aerial work, this version addresses the miscommunication that arises from migration and Lear’s search for Taoist enlightenment.

David Yip – known to UK audiences as The Chinese Detective – and Chinese movie star, Zhou Yemang, feature in a futuristic version of King Lear as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) continuing Complete Works Festival.

Performed in the RSC’s temporary studio space, The Cube at the RST*, the production is directed by David Tse Ka-Shing and co-produced by London based Yellow Earth Theatre and Shanghai based Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. Set in Shanghai and London, it is the future. China is the leading superpower. Those with money and power live above the law. Lear calls a video-conference to decide how his global business empire will be divided amongst his three daughters. We enter a vicious and visceral world where greed and ambition turns sister against sister, master against servant, child against parent. Betrayal, lust and murder follow Lear as he desperately searches for Taoist enlightenment. What hope is there for love?

Highlighting the difficulties of intercultural and intergenerational exchange, Lear and Cordelia’s fatal relationship is compounded by a Chinese Lear and an English-educated Cordelia, no longer fluent in her father’s language and reduced to saying ‘Nothing’.  Providing a challenging cross cultural interpretation, East meets West in this exploration of Chinese and British identities, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, spiritual and financial wealth, family loyalty, and generational divides.

Including video, music and aerial work, the production remains largely faithful to Shakespeare’s original text with a modern twist. Audiences can expect flick knives instead of swords, but will see Lear addressed as ‘King’ instead of President of a global business empire.

Performed in Mandarin and English (with surtitles in both languages), the cast includes: David Yip (Gloucester/Albany) ; Zhou Yemang (King Lear); Daniel York (Edgar/Cornwall); Matt McCooey (Edmund); Zhang Lu (Goneril); Xie Li (Regan); Nina Kwok (Cordelia/Oswald); He Ju (Kent).

Joining David Tse Ka-Shing on the creative team is: Jonathan Man (Assistant Director); Zhu Sheng Hao (Chinese Translation); Sang Qi (Stage Designer); Doug Kuhrt (Lighting); Wang Jiwei (Music).


To learn more and see production photos, visit the Yellow Earth website about this production:

Read the script in Chinese and English.

Reviewed in Theatre Journal, Volume 59, Number 3, October 2007, pp. 494-495. Read review.

Reviewed in The Independent. Read review – the article was published on on Monday 06 November 2006 by Ben Walsh.


King Lear

King Lear : Full Video

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  • William Garcia says:

    I wish I knew what lettering was crawling down the stage during the scene during the division of power at he beginning of the play. I have never seen a Lear with such stark differences between the three sisters and Lear in costuming. Lear wears a traditional outfit, Goneril western business attire and Regan, western party-girl clothes. Cordelia is hidden behind the set, almost as if she were on a screen, not present in person. Lear looks at the audience when addressing Cordelia, both reinforcing the feeling she is on a video screen and making the audience connect more with Cordelia’s plight.

  • yuan says:

    could I ask you which version of this script uses? Is it 1608 quarto or 1623 folio version of King Lear?

    • Belinda Yung says:

      Taking a quick look at the script, I found the following evidence to support that it might be based on the folio version:
      – Act 4 Scene 3 is omitted as in the folio version.
      – In Act 4 Scene 7, the role of the Doctor is cut from the quarto version, and his lines are given to Gentleman in the folio version. However, director David Tse who adapted the script has given the lines to Kent. At the end of the scene, a conversation between Kent and the Gentleman is omitted as in the folio version.

      However, without going line by line through the script, it is difficult to know whether Tse added lines from the quarto version. It is important to note that the Fool is a absent from this adaptation of King Lear. His lines in Act 3 Scene 2 about the prophecy found in the folio version are therefore left out.

      (Please note that the link to the script above has been fixed.)

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