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Review Sydney Morning Herald - May 10, 2004
By Stephen Dunn
Bondi Pavilion, May 7
Shakespeare Globe Centre
Parramatta Riverside, May 8
Two different productions of Shakespeare's master tragedy running concurrently can only signify one thing: King Lear is on the HSC syllabus and the exams are approaching fast. Students who attend either version will get a legible account of the play, no doubt a useful supplement to the numerous times they've already studiously read it.
However, these two productions are vastly different in style, effectiveness and quality, despite both having set designs by Tom Bannerman and lights by Tony Youlden.
The Shakespeare Globe version at the Riverside presents pretty much the complete text in a production designed to be simultaneously modern in style yet recreating the effect of Shakespeare's original Globe theatre.
Co-directed by Diana Denley and Matthew O'Sullivan (who also plays Lear), it has some strong moments but is let down by poor casting and production
Some poor staging and unconvincing fights are also let-downs. The decision to set most of the Fool's (Les Asmussen) opening exchanges with the king as tired vaudeville schtick with cabaret songs is inexplicable, and robs the Fool's vicious wit of much of its essential darkness. The Fool's love of cheap flash photography is also a needless distraction. Similarly, Nicholas Gledhill does little with the numerous transformations of Edgar, shifting to Poor Tom, Gloucester's beach-side rescuer, and back to Edgar without noticeable vocal or physical distinctions. Poor Tom's affected madness deserves much more than outstretched arms and some daubs of bodypaint.
Lear is about a world of terror and social decay as authority crumbles under the twin assaults of folly and power lust, but this world never seems to appear. Indeed, the production seems very insecure about what kind of a world it does occupy, moving, as it does, from generalised corporate to generalised army dressings, with accents from broad to business-class Aussie, from cool British imperial to overcooked Irish worker.
The best work here is O'Sullivan's urbane and effective Lear, Lee Biolos's Oswald, James Hagan's Kent and Toni Murphy's Cordelia. It's a pity that in a cast of 14, performances are so uneven. The result is dutiful Bardic homage for schoolkids rather than anything insightful or inspiring.
At the Bondi Pavilion, Michael Pigott's Lear is vastly better. Using only eight actors, it makes a virtue of necessity, its minimal resources inspiring an imaginative and often exciting vision of the text.
David Ritchie's Lear is more primal and sullen, the authentic pagan monarch who is old before he is wise but less the foolish, fond old man. The production uses Japanese imagery (kimonos and sticks) but that's partly perhaps due to the ease of changing kimonos, as in numerous sequences where actors walk behind one of the Pav's pillars (an architectural defect rarely used better) and instantly re-enter as somebody else.
Megan Drury triples Cordelia, the Fool and Oswald to excellent effect - her sardonic and sarcastic Fool is a much happier interpretation, cynical and self-aware.
Graeme Rhodes as Gloucester and Albany and Michael Cullen as Edgar and Cornwall perform strongly, and Kyle Wright's plain-speaking Kent and slightly camp Edmund are striking physical and vocal performances.Vanessa O'Neill's Goneril and Angela Baur's Regan are beautifully judged portraits of elegant ambition. Jim Flanagan's excellent music and sound design provide strong atmosphere.
It's a production so striking and effective that even for old Lear hands the play seems fresh, allowing audiences to see its nihilism and dark vision anew.
The Riverside version has the opposite effect. It is uneven and prosaic, while the Bondi production is terrific. Although cut down more than the Riverside version, it remains more faithful to the text's vast spirit, eliciting true horror and astonishment. It can be safely recommended even to adults whose Shakespearean HSC struggles are long over.
"Your recent production of King Lear was magnificent. Everything about this production - its physicality, its minimalism,the music, wonderful performances - combined to make this an inspirational piece of theatre. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this such an uplifting experience." Julia de Meyrick Asquith NSW
25/05/04 "just a note to congratulate the company on your invigorating production of King Lear. I've not seen such a successful ensemble production of any Shakespearian text in recent memory, let alone Lear. My students may well be e-mailing you re. elements of critical interpretation/adaptation. Any support or commentary you can provide is most welcome; in fact, I would be grateful for details of directorial vision and contextual influence applied to this production. Looking forward to hearing from you AND future productions! Cheers," Bruce Spryer, Port Hacking High, Miranda NSW
22/03/04 - News just to hand, Harlos Producer Gertraud Ingeborg will be appearing for Downstairs Belvoir in One Flea Spare directed by Tanya Denny from April 29th to May 16th 2004. The play is part of the B Sharp Season. For more information or to book click here.
Previous Reviews 2001 - 2003
The Sun Herald
Reviewed by Tim Benzie
11 May 2003 Click here to view the original article
Sydney Morning Herald
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Reviewed by Lenny Ann Low
May 9 2003
The Bondi Pavilion, May 6
It's not often you wish Hamlet would get off the stage and let the bit players get on with it. But then, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, these two purposeless messengers are, of course, the leads.
Hamlet, his uncle, his girlfriend and his mother are more like the spear carriers, briefly emerging to deliver significant plot announcements before leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to resume their bewildering, and all-consuming, existentialist conundrum.
More than 30 years ago the playwright Tom Stoppard plucked the doomed and rather insignificant pair from Shakespeare's Hamlet and wrote a play inventing their philosophical search for meaning and function in Elsinore and, ultimately, the world.
Stoppard has repeatedly insisted Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were no artistic manifestations of "the condition of modern man". They were, he said, "two nonentities surrounded by intrigue, given very little information and much of that false . . . It was about two blokes, right?"
Michael Cullen as Rosencrantz and James Lugton as Guildenstern are well cast as the linguistically infused buffoons, doomed to eternal confusion and ineludible death in this revival of Stoppard's critically acclaimed 1967 play.
As they wander Stoppard's absurdist and dislocated landscape, interrogating their sense of purposelessness, much as Estragon and Vladimir do in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot or many of Harold Pinter's characters, they embody a great pair of "blokes". Whiling away their time with sophisticated linguistic and physical diversions, Lugton and Cullen display great timing, a fine chemistry and a command of Stoppard's complex and witty talk. Their verbal tennis game, where each competitor may only volley fresh questions at each other, is great to watch.
Lugton is particularly good as the doggedly inquiring and bombastic Guildenstern, rambling like a swooning professor of metaphysics while Cullen's Rosencrantz yaps around his ankles like an effervescent student of life.
Anthony Hunt brings suitably mellifluous tones to the role of the Player King, grandly leading his grotesque troupe through raucous parades of play-acting.
What ultimately sticks out, however, are the wildly different levels of performance. Almost everyone else, apart from the protaganists, performed at a different pace or level of surety.
Lugton and Cullen are confident, passionate and very likeable in their roles but it felt like they were interrupted rather than enriched by visits from Hamlet and his entourage. As Harlos Productions is producing this play in repertory with Hamlet, and using the same cast in both, it was disappointing these characters were not better developed.
The Sydney Morning Herald:
An excellent mounting from director Tanja Denny, with a strong cast and a production of sterling clarity. David Ritchie is again wonderful in the title role, and this version can be confidently recommended to lovers of the play and suffering HSC students alike.( King Lear 2002)
..a cracker of a play, "there are some wonderful performances...three hours of madness, violence, death, horror and bleakness just fly by.(King Lear 2001)
..a lucid, thrifty and ingenious Hamlet...(Hamlet 1997)
The Sun Herald:
“This is impressively gutsy, intelligent and clear-cut Shakespeare: a fine introduction to a terrifying play.
(King Lear 2001)
Thank you. Our year 12 students thoroughly enjoyed your production of King Lear we had lively discussions in class wonderful for teaching! Carlingford High School. (King Lear 2002)
Thanks for thought-provoking interpretation of King Lear, Our school really enjoyed the performance. It has kept them discussing the play in a most animated fashion all week! Coffs Harbour High School. (King Lear 2002)
We appreciated your production of King Lear very much and I found it more accessible and worthwhile than the STC production at the Wharf Theatre last year. St Joseph’s Catholic College. (King Lear 2002)
My group saw the play last night and we were delighted with it. It was engrossing and the performances managed to convey the complexities of the characters very clear and imaginative. Thanks. Annie Friedlander. - Bradfield College. (King Lear 2001)