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Adapted from Shakespeare by Susanna Hamnett and Edith Tankus

Produced and Performed by Susanna Hamnett

From London, England

About the Company

What if the great and tragic story of King Lear were to be told through the eyes of his closest companion?


In this award-winning and dynamic one-woman tour-de-force, Susanna Hamnett plays the Fool (and every other character) to tell a very personal and poignant story that - with breathtaking hilarity and heartache - honors the beautiful language of Lear while taking a bit of poetic license.


Created with Edith Tankus (Kneehigh, Shakespeare’s Globe), and with initial development in association with Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd of internationally-acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre, NEARLY LEAR is an exuberant blend of tragedy and humor that has toured internationally to critical and audience acclaim. It has run on Broadway at the New Victory Theater, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and the Sydney Opera House, Australia. It also won the IPAY Victor (People's Choice) Award for Outstanding Production in 2012.

“A virtuosic performer with a touch of the endearing goofball”

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

Best for: Grades 8th+ (13 years+)

Audience Size: Small & Medium Venues
(up to 400 seats depending on venue sight lines)

Interview with Susanna Hammnett

NEARLY LEAR highlights trailer

Please contact us to watch an archival full length recording.

Curriculum Connections

  • Fine Arts: Theater, Clowning, Music, Production Design

  • Language Arts: Shakespeare, Characters, Adaptation

  • History: British History, Jesters & Historic Clowns

  • Emotional/Social Learning Development: Self-Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision-Making, Social Awareness, Leadership, Families, Loss and Grief

Curriculum Connections

Outreach and Workshops


Susanna teaches workshops to students of all ages and levels, as well as to teachers and to members of the public. She works to create an atmosphere of fun, trust, and exploration, where participants feel safe and encouraged to take risks and make discoveries. Her classes invite playfulness and presence, with a focus on Shakespeare, Clown, or Wit and Wordplay, although there are areas of overlap between them.


SHAKESPEARE (for teachers): an energetic experiential workshop for teachers, offering  playful, dynamic ways for their students to connect imaginatively and physically with Shakespeare’s language and characters.


SHAKESPEARE (for students): an energetic and playful workshop inviting students to use impulse and imagination to make emotional connections with aspects of Shakespeares’s language and characters.


CLOWN: exploring presence and building confidence, using the “smallest mask” - the red nose - and the joy of play. Clown games and exercises help nurture an honest emotional connection with one’s own feelings and the ability to share that with an audience.


WIT & WORDPLAY: developing a facility to play around freely and joyfully with words helps build confidence and fluency in authentically expressing feelings and owning our own voices and right to speak. This fun and humour-filled work is based on the teaching of Merry Conway, and is taught with her permission.

Sensory Friendly Performances

NEARLY LEAR is available as a “sensory friendly” or “relaxed” performance if arranged with the company in advance and with specific direction as to what adjustments are necessary for your venue.

Minimum Technical Requirements

  • Load In Time: 3 – 4 hours

  • Crew Needs: 1 Lighting Technician for load in and show + 1 Sound Technician for load in only

  • Min. Stage Size: 20 – 25’ wide x 15’ feet deep

  • Sound Needs: PA System, Lav mic such as Countryman B3

  • Projection Needs: ability to connect the Company’s projector (at front of the stage) to the sound booth

  • Load Out Time: 1 hour

    NEARLY LEAR is extremely adaptable to different spaces and to the technical capabilities of each venue.

Minimum Tech
Artistic Team

Artistic Team

Adapted from Shakespeare by Susanna Hamnett and Edith Tankus

Initial research and development in association with Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd of Kneehigh Theatre, England


Performer:  Susanna Hamnett

Director:  Edith Tankus

Additional Direction: Steve MacGregor

Original Lighting Design:  Michelle Ramsay

Set Design:  Lindsay Anne Black

Sound: Gavin Fearon

Film: David Parker

Critical Acclaim

Critical Acclaim

“It’s a frisky, funny, vaudevillian…tantalizing introduction to the lifelong pleasures of  Shakespeare… An energetic, virtuosic performer with a touch of the endearing goofball… Leaping from character to character — a slightly stiff, self-important Lear; a simpering Regan; a snooty Goneril; a sincere Cordelia — she manages to give each character a distinct voice (the varied accents are impeccable), and she keeps the story in clear focus… the most enjoyable — O.K., maybe the only enjoyable — example of audience participation I’ve ever witnessed..

But Ms. Hamnett does not fail to honor the ultimate darkness of the play’s vision… I found myself eyeing that tissue box forlornly once or twice.” -Charles Isherwood, New York Times. (January 10th, 2011)


“Everyone interested in the theatre and drama should have been at the Aberdeen Arts Centre last night, there should have been queues up and down King Street. Such is the mighty theatrical force that is Susanna Hamnett and her one-woman version of Shakespeare’s King Lear – Nearly Lear (created with and directed by Edith Tankus)… Hamnett is a seriously gifted actress… skilled in Shakespeare, clown, vaudeville and storytelling… Retold through the eyes of court jester, Noreen, played with razor-sharp hypertension by Hamnett, the tale unfolds at gunfire velocity with more wit, mischief and sheer playfulness than you can legally pack into 80 minutes of live theatre…

Every character is vividly etched and Hamnett plays them all with dazzling verve…bringing Shakespeare to life with a vibrancy (the audience) will never forget.” -Roddy Phillips, Aberdeen Press and Journal. (October 27th, 2010)


“Nearly Lear…is played to perfection by the gifted Susanna Hamnett… Although the play does touch on much of the sadness of the story, it is really the story of Noreen herself that is most captivating…both approachable and frighteningly vulnerable…a truly complex character…

Fast paced and exciting… Hamnett is the real powerhouse of the play. She portrays at least six different characters effortlessly, never missing a beat or ceasing to explode with seemingly boundless energy. Her performance and the spot-on directorial skills of Edith Tankus create a character and a performance that viewers will not soon forget.” -Susie Potter, Triangle Arts and Entertainment. (September 29th, 2010)


“I am so inspired by your play I went to the library and got a book by Shakespeare. It was so amazing I cannot explain it. It was way beyond amazing. It was perfect!’ -Emelia, student, Dundas PS


"It is a tragedy, but you made it a tragedy with the right amount of sadness and much humour…The students were spellbound throughout. They were with you all the way. Well done! I hope that you can bring this wonderful experience before the hundreds of students who are in our schools and who will just eat up this classical work, be inspired to explore Shakespeare and themselves feel moved to tell stories in such a creative way." -Gerry Mabin, founder of The Mabin School


Company Background

“My work is, I think, the confused love child of two quite different approaches to theatre: a  traditional classical theatre training and theatrical clown. It is this tension between being over-earnest and serious, whilst longing for some riotous and mischievous foolery that seems to shape how I approach everything – performing, teaching and directing. Or maybe that’s just being British!”


Susanna Hamnett arrived at her acting career sideways – “rather like a crab” as director Christopher Morahan once observed, scrutinizing her resumé. Having graduated from Cambridge University in Russian and French she then she won scholarships to study acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, under the tutelage of renowned Shakespeare and Voice coach Patsy Rodenburg, and worked professionally in England and Europe, as well as a period at the Moscow Arts Theatre School.


Discovering theatrical clowning for the first time through the work of Russian clown, Slava Polunin, she set out to learn as much as possible about the art, and moved to Toronto to study with master clowns John Turner and Michael Kennard (of “Mump and Smoot”) with whom she trained and collaborated extensively. She then began to develop and direct clown-influenced shows herself,  exploring and evolving an approach to marrying seemingly disparate disciplines - Shakespeare, clown, storytelling, dance, vaudeville, the serious and the mischievous.


It is this approach and curiosity that also drives her work as an artist-educator, and she has worked in Canada and the US with students of all ages and backgrounds, from university students to at-risk youth, to school children as young as six. She has been a part of Lincoln Center’s Aesthetic Education Program and in 2012 the Kennedy Center’s Theatre for Young Audiences department in Washington, DC  commissioned her to work on a new solo script which she presented at New Visions New Voices the following year. In 2014 she was awarded the inaugural Colleen Porter Residency Award (IPAY), which took her to Australia and Tasmania.


Susanna is passionate about  creating work that is inspiring, meaningful and entertaining for both young and adult audiences, and believes in the vital importance of intergenerational audience experiences. At present, she is living back in the UK and is creating a new performance with her two adult children.


Past North American Tours include: 

Nearly Lear 2012-2017


For more information, please visit the company’s website:

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