King Lear | State Theatre Company of South AustraliaLeft - John Gaden and Sarah Snook. Cover - Martha Lott, John Gaden and Victoria Longley

Four hundred years after it was written King Lear remains a frighteningly accurate account of rivalries, rejections and revenge within families.

In Shakespeare’s times a dysfunctional family with swords could only end in utter tragedy. Nevertheless the message is still loud and clear – families are cauldrons of seething emotions with sometimes dire consequences.

The State Theatre Company’s production of this profound play is compelling. Director Adam Cook has taken a classic and imbued it with harrowing relevance for today. Uplifting it is not. Inspired it is!

Victoria Lamb’s set manages to convey the life and times of King Lear and yet a timelessness that lends the play relevance for today.

John Gaden reprises his role as Lear, a role that has been filled by many famous actors over the years – Laurence Olivier, Paul Scolfield, Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Michael Gambon and Kevin Kline to name but a few.

Gaden can hold his head high in such illustrious thespian company as he powerfully portrays both the pride and the fall of the King, who is nearing retirement and unwisely decides to disperse his estate before his death. Lear wields his power injudiciously and fails to discriminate between sycophants and true supporters. The fall-out of his folly is almost unfathomable. This is family politics of princely proportions.

Lear’s colleagues, the Earls of Gloucester (Dennis Olsen) and Kent (Michael Habib), try to warn him but their collective wisdom is not enough to stop the descent into despair. Olsen is outstanding as the godforsaken Gloucester as is Habib as the banished Kent who returns in disguise to serve his King.

The younger generation all shine in their respective roles. Victoria Longley and Martha Lott are suitably obsequious and then strident as Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan. Terence Crawford and Renato Musolino are potent forces as the women’s husbands. Sarah Snook is also a strong counterpart as faithful daughter Cordelia.

This is a strong and compelling cast in which all shine brightly, and yet dazzling in the starry firmament perhaps are Renato Fabretti as Edmund and Nathan O’Keefe as Edgar.

Fabretti depicts all of the charm and force of Edmund’s personality, from his seething hatred of his lot in life to his determination to achieve his goals at any cost. All are seduced by his charms.

O’Keefe rises to the occasion and produces an equally astounding performance as Edgar. O’Keefe transforms from a young man basking in the security of his father’s favour, to a downtrodden Gollum-like outcast before finally facing the painful truth and standing tall.

O’Keefe and Fabretti’s fight scenes are powerful and realistic and choreographer Nino Pilla is to be applauded. Yes, this play has it all family feuds, sword fights, blood and guts, adultery and more. The stage pulsates with recognisable human emotions, relationships and palpable suffering. It may be gloomy, but it is gripping.

Cook and his cast have produced scintillating Shakespeare, incandescent theatre!

State Theatre Company of South Australia and Adelaide Festival Centre present
by William Shakespeare

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 31 October – 21 November
Visit website for session times

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