The last time I saw King Lear performed I was fortunate enough to be at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. It was with much anticipation that I entered the Melbourne Theatre Company's Sumner Theatre to view their gender bending take on the mad king.
Robin Nevin as the title character is nothing short of magnificent. Resplendent in scarlet robes, her passionate and misogynistic rants are both astounding and deplorable. Nevin constructs an almost impossible harmony by giving Lear a sense of humor, softening her tyranny with the baffling remarks of someone gone beyond the reaches of sanity.
Playing a "wicked stepmother" character, the entire production is more fairytale than fire and brimstone and while Nevin takes on the deeply disturbed character with remarkable style, Rachel McDonald's direction has left certain gaps in the traditional text.
Time and place is scattered throughout the production and the audience never fully grasps the context of the story. The costuming, while utterly fabulous is an eclectic mix of eras and cultures, which only goes to confuse an audience already struggling to understand the fast paced and heavy dialogue.
At times, it seems the cast themselves are having difficulty keeping up with the text as the tale winds around itself. The concept of double casting Lear's daughters as the Fool doesn't quite meet the mark, serving more as a distraction than anything else.
A large and seemingly endless stage is a wonderful metaphor for the emptiness of the character's hearts, yet is poses logistical problems for the actors who almost have to shout to hear each other's lines.
With such a talented cast and the sheer brilliance of Nevin, Queen Lear showed so much promise, yet through trying to be a bit too clever has unfortunately transposed into something of a mess. A clean up of the text and more faithful reproduction would have served this production far better.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by William Shakespeare
Director Rachel McDonald
Venue: MTC Sumner Theatre, Southbank
Dates: 7 July – 18 August, 2012
Bookings: www.mtc.com.au | 03 8688 0800.