By Danielle Farrow
Shakespeare’s King Lear is full of fascinating characters: ungrateful daughters and a scheming bastard set against loving children and faithful retainers, with, of course, Lear himself at the centre – a lost fool on a journey back to himself via madness.
Mixing solid Shakespeare text and physical illustration, Leof Kingsford-Smith speaks the bulk of The Madness of King Lear’s chopped up script while Ira Seidenstein combines controlled martial arts and mime moves with graceful dance and some deft touches of clowning. Together, they present a madness of Lear that is strong on concept, but weak in connection.
Visually, it works in elegant simplicity: red and black Chinese robes and tunics feature, while just a few lighting changes focus scenes. Lear does lose clothes along the way, so that the stark white of simple undergarments accompanies him into childishness. However, while one can build up a reasoning to account for Lear speaking other characters’ lines (it is all happening in his mind, somehow including action that Shakespeare’s Lear would have known nothing about), this framework is not made particularly clear, the story is probably confusing to those who do not know it well, and, in the end, nothing justifies the lack of any real feeling.
The soundtrack, varying from German metal to Latin chants, through New Age melodies and grating noises, is often of more interest than Kingsford-Smith’s speaking, given that he offers little vocal variation beyond silly voices (for females and fools) and the occasional ear-catching lack of key consonants where the ends of words go the way of any actual passion: suppressed under intellectual notions that keep only artifice on the surface and do not allow words, thoughts or feelings to rise, let alone burst into appreciable life.
There are indications of animation from Seidenstein, creating a wish to hear more from him, but even his physicality winds up rather empty, despite his appealing expressions. As Regan, though, he is particularly strong, and Kingsford-Smith rises to this section as well, letting go a little of his superficial vocal approach and becoming more emotionally involved. An engaging piece of very simple physical direction helps separate the scheming sisters geographically, and little touches of this nature do weave through the show, adding some performance colour.
In fact, it is clear that much thought has gone into the presentation of The Madness of King Lear, but the production lacks connection to Shakespeare’s characters and their passions, creating an artwork of some visual interest, but ultimately without a beating heart at its core.
1 – 27 August (not 14), 17:30 (18:30) @ C, Chambers Street