Monster reimagining

KING LEAR MONSTER SHOW! (The Curators)

Christ Church Milton

May 18 – June 5

From the moment of entry into the heritage-listed Christ Church in Milton, it is obvious that there is a lot going on in the LearLand of The Curator’s latest offering. “KING LEAR MOSTER SHOW!” is a riotous exploration of dynastic struggles in a post democratic world and Beth Scott’s set design features are almost overwhelming in creation of the aesthetic of the epic 21st century fable. While an inventive iron milk crate and pool noodle fashioned throne sits back of stage, a silver mosaic collage of found objects features as an up-close-and personal dystopian signal to the tone of this far-from-classic tale of Shakespeare’s mad monarch. With ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’, we begin with a gasp from the titular king’s loyal and honest advocate, an effervescent Felinini-esque fool (Eleonora Ginardi) who asks about life before speaking in one of the play’s many tongues.  

One of Shakespeare’s more frequently performed tragedies, “King Lear”tells the story of the old and tired King Lear and his daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. When Cordelia, his youngest and favourite daughter is unable to shower him with false affections like her scheming elder sisters, in a fit of rage he banishes her, breaking her heart in the process. What follows is Lear’s dramatic fall from grace – and into madness, alongside the plotting of the bastard Edmund and the honest and gullible legitimate child Edgar of Gloucester. Transformed into “KING LEAR MONSTER SHOW!”, it is a complex, intellectual experience – a behemoth of a morality tale of the heart, that despite its politics, is, as its core, a family saga. Accordingly, the production is all about character. And the characters are distinct from the beginning, thanks to Director and Costume Designer Michael Beh’s rich tapestry of costumes. It is all colour and moment as characters, stomp, prance or mope about in sequined splendour of leather, lace, velvet, feathers and found sparkles. The bold but detailed aesthetic is a characteristic of The Curator’s works, carefully carried through the lighting (Lighting Designer David Willis) in, for example, the signature green hues that hover over appearance of Lear’s villainous eldest daughter Goneril (Amanda McErlean), costuming and even the giant portrait paintings (from artist and designer Ronnie Walkefield) that adorn the walls around us.

Things continue through the extremes of emotion towards a scream into the ominously tense soundscape of interval, before Act Two returns to focus more on the grandstanding self-proclaimed villain-by-necessity Edmund (Willem Whitfield). It also provides platform for the production’s most impressive performances. Warwick Comber makes for a formidable figure as the leather-clad Lear, unable to to give or receive real love and affection and blind to his pettiness and the consequences of playing one’s family members off against one another. The ageing British monarch is one of the canonically great roles and Comber embraces it with gusto as he belches and bellows about in early scenes. As powerful as his vocal presence may be, however, his most commanding moments are in quieter times of more restraint, such as his early Act Two self-pitying reaction against the elements of the symbolic storm in reveal of his inner turmoil and mounting madness. As Lear’s loyal cousin Gloucester, Royal Duchess of the Blood, Julia Johnson is glorious in her interact with both son and bastard son, but especially when blinded. And Cameron Hurry is intoxicating, especially as sweary mad party animal Poor Tom, giving his all as he throws himself about the stage.  

As part of its transformation of the powerful tragedy, the play leans into the Bard’s bawdy innuendo. There are a number of highly sexualised moments, especially from whimsical bastard Edmund. Whitfield is very much a glam rock star as he Machiavellians about in enjoyment of his wonderful vengeful wickedness, kissing boys and girls alike. While the core of Shakespeare’s narrative remains relatively intact, the play builds upon this with commentary and extension of its character’s voices using western, European languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish) and excerpts of poetry from Dante, Keats, Dickinson, Yeats and Eliot. It is a lot and while this adds a layer of interest, and the projections of the translations are helpful, this overload sometimes detracts from overall cohesion in what is a long play of 2 hours and 20 minutes (including interval).

“If you see with innocent eyes, everything is divine,” distinctive Italian film director and screenwriter Frederico Fellini stated. It’s an oft-repeated quote in “KING LEAR MONSTER SHOW!” and an appropriate final comment from the wildly reimagined Fool, a reminder perhaps that, as audiences are reminded by a pre-show projection, ‘There is no future. There is no past’. There is, however, passion, and this is one of the things that resonates most from this work, which is visually dynamic and highly imaginative, even in how its tragic body count mounts. With such an avant-garde approach, however, it is perhaps best seen by those with some knowledge of Shakespeare’s source material, in order to fully appreciate not only its creativity, but its resonance across time and cultures.

Photos c/o – Naz Mulla Photography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s