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'King Lear with Sheep': the summer's weirdest theatre show

'King Lear with Sheep' director Missouri Williams explains why 'sinister and knowing' sheep make the best cast for her eccentric show: a version of Shakespeare's tragedy for one man and 12 ewes

Seriously, how did you think of this?
‘I was feeling bitter: I’d worked with actors in several roles and the intense level of people management was really getting me down. Then I used some sheep in a short film and they were great and everybody had fun. I thought I’d like to work with sheep again.’  

What’s the actual premise?
‘There’s a director whose cast are late to perform “King Lear”. So he has to go on and apologise for his actors. Then when they arrive they don’t perform and ignore him. It never occurs to him that they are sheep and obviously can’t perform “King Lear”. So he has a nervous breakdown and starts performing the play himself.’

How did you write the script?
‘The director is played by Alasdair Saksena and we devised parts of the script together, along with Lucie Elven, our producer. This mostly consisted of us making Alasdair feel bad and then him riffing from there.’

Why not, say, pigs?
‘Pigs are so huge! And sheep are so sinister and knowing. Plus there are lots of actual sheep references in “King Lear”.’ 

Are you pretty serious about this?
‘I could go on about the meaning of the play for hours. I hope it gives people stuff to think about, especially in relation to the original play, the nature of performance, the role of women, the limitations of the theatre, blah blah blah. I’m just sick of Noël Coward plays. Sheep seemed like the perfect solution.’

Do the sheep have to audition?
‘We assign them their parts based on their size and nature. The cutest lamb is always Cordelia because she makes Alasdair look so mean. The central irony is that all the sheep are ewes, so we have a majority female Shakespearean cast which is great.’

Where are the sheep from?
Vauxhall City Farm, who have been incredibly great about the whole thing. They really are the most indifferent sheep I’ve ever worked with, absolutely nothing fazes them.’

Do they enjoy wearing outfits?
‘They try to eat their costumes really fast so for the sheep it’s an exercise in destruction.’ 

Is it a fun show to work on?
‘It’s more fun than any show I’ve worked on because the actors are so cute and all the fights that they have are based on reason: someone is standing in the way of the food, someone is crowding someone else’s lamb etc...’

What do you hope audiences get out of it?
‘There’s nothing I can say which won’t sound silly. I guess just that they see something they haven’t seen before.’

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