The Shadow King | Brisbane FestivalPhoto – Scottie Cameron

The Shadow King is a remarkable adaption of Shakespeare's King Lear, transformed into the telling of a story about ownership, family and land and the ties that bind the three together in Indigenous Australian culture.

"We bring you into our world using your old story," were the words used by Tom E. Lewis, who brings to life King Lear in the production, to articulate the process of adapting the old English work into the telling of a modern Australian story. Family, the central point of conflict in the original text, still begins and ends this story. Within this theme is explored the ideas of respect, of conflicting ideals and needs, the learning and growth throughout generations, and the importance of a remembered past.

While this performance does comment on the brokenness and despair felt within many communities in the country, it is also a celebration of Indigenous culture, tradition and language. It is always powerful to hear the tones and rhythms of Aboriginal language on stage, and doubly so in this performance, with the patterns of the Indigenous voice catching and lilting with a familiar cadence, so surprisingly similar to that of Shakespearean text.

Every performer in this show is a standout. From Tom E. Lewis and his powerful, gentle and crazy Lear, to Frances Djulibing, who brings to the stage a version of Gloucester that takes the audience's breath away in every scene. Jimi Bani as Edmund and Kamahi Djordon King as the Fool, both send shivers down spines with the masterful clarity with which they relay their text in the show. A live band rounds the experience off, providing soundtrack both lively and haunting.

The design, too, is a visual and tactile masterpiece, with the stage floor transformed by layers of dusty red dirt, and a simple but versatile rotating set playing house, car and jail. The subtle use of video projection is the key in transporting the audience into the world of The Shadow King, providing yet another layer of authenticity to this story.

The story told on stage during The Shadow King is a tragedy, but the work is a triumph. There is so much that could be said to describe it, but like all great theatre, the key not missing such a special experience is to see it before its run ends this weekend.

Brisbane Festival and Malthouse Theatre present
The Shadow King
Co-Created by Tom E. Lewis & Michael Kantor

Venue: Brisbane Powerhouse | Powerhouse Theatre, 119 Lamington St New Farm QLD
Dates: 9 – 13 Sept, 2014
Tickets: $45 – $40

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