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July 30, 2007 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

King Lear

Directed by David Lawrence
Wellington season: Aug 01 – 05
Te Whaea, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown

As I sit waiting for director David Lawrence to finish editing the production’s rain soundtrack, I cannot help but note his attention to detail and accuracy. In spite of these traits, the production he is leading has suffered many ups and downs beyond his control. This King Lear was developed with (and the title role intended for) English actor Edward Petherbridge, over months of lengthy toll calls and e-mails. Sadly the company realised early into rehearsals that Edward’s current health was not going to let him cope with the demands of the vigorous rehearsal process. With Edward having flown back to the UK, New Zealand actor Mick Rose has taken over the role. “Rose has seamlessly slotted into the company and rehearsal process, but then that’s the sort of actor that both Edward and Mick are: they’re not there to be a ‘star’, but to be a member of a company in which the play is what matters. He’s not simply taking over where Edward left off, but has the courage and ability to take the character and form it as his own – and he’s such a lovely, intelligent and down to earth man to work with,” Lawrence says.

King Lear is considered to be among the finest examples of tragic lyricism in the English language and Lawrence aims to try and get back to the essence of what the play is about. The company’s take on the play is examining how the polar opposites of cruelty and compassion can exist in human beings simultaneously. “The natural world of this play has turned into hell because of how inhumanely people are treating one another,” Lawrence says. “To the same extent the characters’ behaviour changes with the state of the weather. It looks at how when human beings lose their sense of humanity, the entire world falls apart, and when the entire world falls apart people lose their sense of humanity. It’s about the current state of the world and global warming, in a sense. The play asks why people continue to exist when we live in a world of terrorism, civil war, discord and disharmony and treat each other so terribly and cruelly.”

With the Royal Shakespeare Company in town a week later with the same play, Lawrence assures that the two productions will be very different. The RSC’s King Lear is an international touring production built around a star actor and star director. Lawrence has no doubt it will have amazing production values and a brilliant central performance, “whereas I’d hope that in our production you’ll see twelve equally impressive performances and nothing that detracts from enjoying the play. The work is passionate, energetic, intelligent, committed, and honest – a reflection of the level of experience, intelligence and commitment that the company has brought to the rehearsal room. The story, the play, the language is the crucial thing in this production, not that Lear gets his dick out or that there’s real rain on the stage. I’d hope that people who know the play well will still have room to be satisfied and surprised by what they’re seeing, but anyone who’s never seen the play before will also be able to understand the story simply and clearly.”

VUW Theatre and English Literature graduate Erin Banks (Cordelia / the Fool) has had a particularly trying time with the extra-production difficulties in her performance as the Fool. “In general, the Fool is a tricky character, and you can become obsessed about making the role your own because some of the interpretations have been so out there. He is such a reflection and attachment to Lear that with this production’s circumstances of a changing Lear, and for a while no Lear, it was hard to make any progress. But things are really starting to develop – it’s exciting rather than scary. I’m excited. We‘re going to get there and we are having so much fun.” This show holds the promise of an exhilarating, traumatic, engaging and must-see production.


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