[2010037] King Lear

King Lear [FringeTIX]

So What? Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

2:30pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

This year seems to be particularly good for Shakespeare – along with the Festival’s Vs Macbeth and The Life and Death of King John, this production of King Lear appeared, wodged in a very Pete-friendly timeslot. The Bard on a weekday matinee, you say? I am so there.

Not many other people were, though. There was maybe eight of us, I reckon. Which has the cast outnumbering us quite heavily.

It’s a relatively straight-forward production: minimalist in nature, relying only on a few chairs, a wheelie bin, and a lot of newspaper for staging. There’s some great direction in there, travelling being denoted by movement around the audience; the space of The Arch is used to its fullest, but – save for some clever shadow-play – there’s no massive surprises in store. It feels complete, but sparse.

But then we get to Act V – and it is, quite literally, a bloody mess. Dispensing with the Bard’s scripted dénouement, it’s an all-cast lineup where each character rapid-fires an explanatory soliloquy about their downfall, then marks their death by smashing a blood capsule on their forehead. With twelve cast members on stage, it rapidly becomes a pile of bodies and blood atop a bed of newspaper.

Lear’s two dirtbag daughters (Danielle Nakkan and Ash Vlahos as Gonerill and Regan, respectively) are sufficiently hateful, while Jacqueline Breen’s Cordelia is a demure shrinking violet. Clare Matchett’s Fool (popping, surprisingly, out of a wheelie bin at the appropriate moments) provides great comic relief, but it’s Stephen Sharpe’s performance in the titular role that brings it all together: he oozes regality early, then manages to pull off an absolutely convincing batshit-insane Lear later in the piece.

I bumped into Sharpe down Rundle Street one day as he emerged from the Sushi King that seems to feed all Fringe Artists. He was still bloodied from that day’s performance, and as I raved to him about how much I loved the show (and let’s be clear – I thought it was awesome), he smiled broadly and thanked me for my words… and he sounded so young, so far away from that character onstage. That really surprised me; but then I remembered that there’s this little thing called acting, and that’s partly why I see all these shows.

Because these kids can really act, and director Christopher Hay definitely has an eye for the theatrical. King Lear deserves to be an unmitigated success, and I feel disappointed in myself that I didn’t push it onto the Fringe-going masses more myself.

Oh – and the programme? Divine – wonderful texture, superb presentation, and great content… not unlike the production itself.