How pleasant to know Mister Lear, 

who has written such volumes of stuff!

Some think him ill-tempered and so queer,

but a few think him pleasant enough.

 

Edward Lear is a distinctly odd man.  He is in his forties, bearded as a prophet, bespectacled, and homosexual, which is difficult for Victorian society.  He is also prone to epileptic fits and has a intense and close relationship with his sister Ann, who was twenty years older and has brought him up as a mother, though their relationship still resembles that between an  indulgent if somewhat infantilizing mother and her intelligent, active and resistant seven or eight year old. 

 

His mind is concrete and fastidious.

His nose is remarkably big.

His beard is more or less hideous.

His beard, it resembles a wig.

 

Lear writes nonsense poetry, whimsical combinations of words and images, which he uses defensively to bat people off. He dismisses his writing as marginalia.  He would rather be known as a landscape artist but wishes he had done life classes.    

 

He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers

(leastways if you reckon two thumbs).

He used to be one of the singers,

but now he is one of the dumbs.

 

At the beginning of the Chris Goode’s new play, King Pelican, Ann is lying in bed on the mezzanine.  She is dying.  Edward cannot cope with his impending loss and refuses to talk seriously, telling her of the antics of the strange creatures that inhabit the square below.  Ann indulges him wearily, but dies in the middle of one of Edwards diversions.  To cope with the enormity of his loss, he  pretends that she has gone away on a long journey.  She writes letters to him from heaven. 

 

He weeps by the side of the ocean,

he weeps on the top of the hill;

he purchases pancakes and lotion

and chocolate shrimps from the mill.

 

Then Johnny enters Edward’s life on cue as if to rescue him from desolation and delusion.  Johnny is a delivery boy, tall handsome and just nineteen years old.  He comes every day with a package, another component for a phonograph.  Johnny falls in love with the endearingly odd older man. 

 

He sits in a beautiful parlour

with hundreds of books on the wall.

He drinks a great deal of marsala

but never gets tipsy at all.

 

Becoming aware of ‘uncle’s’  fears of love and life, the youth removes his clothes and encourages Lear to gaze upon and even touch his body. Terrified, Lear sends Johnny away. The younger man feels rejected and hurt, ‘The trouble with you is, you can’t tell exile from love’.  Lear’s mind fractures and he has a seizure.   

 

Johnny returns and shatters Lear’s ordered life, careering round on a skate board while the set explodes, lights flash, television monitors buzz and there is weather, water and snow.  Johnny plugs his MP3 player in to the rear of the phonograph and dances manically to heavy metal rock.  Edward’s world fragments; he becomes the demented King Lear; Johnny – poor mad Tom.  

 

‘Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes spout

til you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!’   

 

But the crisis passes.  Edward regains his sanity, assisted by reassuring letters from Ann who is on her own plane.  And he and Johnny throw caution to the wind and build their beautiful pea-green boat. 

 

….. and they sail away for a year and a day to the land where the bong tree grows, presumably to have a civil marriage conducted by an upland turkey using the ring they have filched from the piggy-wig. 

 

King Pelican is a tender tale of make believe, the fantasy of a strange, whimsical man, who has never managed to separate from his filial devotion to Ann, his beloved sister; a lonely individual who fends off intimacy with nonsense and dissociates from crisis in seizures.  Ann’s death forces him to face his terror of sexuality and life.  He succeeds.  Edward and Johnny sail away into the sunset in their improbable boat, Edward strumming his small guitar.  Their union is unconventional.  How could it not be, but we wish them a fair wind, not to say a good passage! 

 

Is this still nonsense or will Lear find a new creativity, drawing from life?  Who knows?   

 

He reads, but he does not speak Spanish,

he cannot abide ginger beer;

ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,

how pleasant to know Mister Lear!

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