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Taking on the challenge of staging one of Shakespeare’s most notorious pieces, Circa Theatre bring a rendition of King Lear by acclaimed director Michael Hurst to the stage this month.
King Lear follows the story of Lear (Ray Henwood), the King of Britain who decides in his old age to divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. When his youngest daughter Cordelia (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) is asked to prove her love to him, a rift is created and the kingdom is plunged into chaos. As Hurst himself puts it: “you know, lots of sex, lots of violence, and a big fight scene at the end.”
I was instantly enamoured by Ray Henwood as King Lear. He presented himself with conviction, and commanded the audience’s attention. Henwood’s versatility as an actor was reflected in his ability to show a full spectrum of emotion; from love to insanity to loyalty—he projected them all. The entire cast had a visceral synergy, reflecting Hurst’s desire for interesting stage dynamics and patterns.
With no alterations to the Shakespearian prose, Hurst chose to use costume and design to bring this story into a post WWII setting, with lavish fur and silk costumes for the sisters and militant uniforms for Cordelia and the officials. The use of lighting was compelling. Often carrying torches on stage, the actors were able to use shadow play to create huge monstrous figures of themselves on the walls intimidating the audience or even more so, their fellow actors. The set transformed the small space of Circa One into a deceivingly large and empty space. A painting of a faux wooden floor with two high walls intersecting at an angle, and a huge window facing an equally sizeable and menacing portrait of King Lear himself gave depth to the stage.
I attended the show on opening night and was greeted with a friendly and warm atmosphere (and free wine!). Those attending the show were largely of the older generation, but that is to be expected for a show of this density and price range. I could not speak more highly of this skilful and enthralling staging of King Lear, but if you are to catch it, make sure you bring snacks and potentially a blanket—three hours of Shakespeare is quite a commitment.