Oh Queen Lear, how I wanted to love you. So very, very much.
I tried to love you; I read about you in the program notes, I saw your beautiful advertising plastered across every tram in Melbourne, I even told myself that "it's Shakespeare" and that I'd be a fool not to enjoy it.
I don't feel anger - but a great sense of disappointment. And a loss for what it could - should - have been.
It all started so beautifully - in hindsight the opening scene is the best - as Queen Lear (the incredibly magnetic Robyn Nevin) parades before her entourage engulfed by a majestically supreme music score and direction that drips with the kind of sharply drawn vision the rest of the play sadly lacked.
I feel sorry for Robyn Nevin because although she is mesmerising as Queen Lear and was sublime to watch, most of the production lets her down and by plays end the audience is left flat and I suspect relieved to see the exit doors.
For me notable exceptions along with Nevin were Greg Stone's strong portrayal of Albany, Robert Menzies loyal Kent and Rohan Nichol's Edgar.
There are other reviewers more experienced with Shakespeare and its many adaptations over the years that will do the "gender" issue more justice, so I will simply comment on some key aspects that - as a "theatre virgin" not familiar with this type of period piece - continue to frustrate and could be addressed, not just by this production, but by any company who wants to make theatre accessible to a broader community of people.
Why is it that in period pieces some of the actors take on an accent that marries with the theme of the play while the other half stay loyal to their native tongue?
This is supposed to be the largest theatre company in Victoria using the finest actors. I don't care what excuse there is for not doing it, it looks lazy and sloppy. And when you are paying around $85 a ticket, I expect the actors to get a grip on the accent and the production to have some sense of consistency across the board with it.
Why? Because I watch someone like Robyn Nevin deliver superb dialogue with such fabulous diction followed by another actor speaking in good old "Aussie bogan" and I am instantly taken out of the world of Shakespeare.
Moral of the story - try to give us as little reason as possible not to connect with your play. Accent is a major reason and easily in the control of the director and actors involved.
I had to look twice (and then look away) when I saw Belinda McClory's Regan enter the stage dressed as though she was plucked straight out of the 1960s. The clothing looked like something a prostitute on the street of London might wear.
Similarly Rohan Nichol's modern cyclist outfit and David Paterson's crisp black suit complete with open neck collar looked like a nod to modern office attire than anything Shakespeare would have envisioned.
I repeat - this is the largest theatre company in Victoria - if anyone is going to have the budget to provide a costume pallet that will "do a Shakespeare justice" it should be MTC. It's that $85 question again.
You took me out of the play, out of the moment, out of the period. Out. Gone. Disconnecting....
I didn't get the rows and rows of gold chains suspended from the ceiling to the floor. I'm sure they were supposed to have some kind of metaphorical meaning but it was lost on me.
The tardis like structure was interesting in a kind of phallic way and the large image of the landscape that occasionally descended to remind us what this family was initially fighting over was a poor imitation for the real thing.
You are charging patrons $85 for an average ticket. I'm just using common sense here but I'm guessing most of them don't want to see a minimalist set design. Leave that to the likes of Red Stitch and La Mama which excel at doing that kind of thing.
All of these complaints can probably be best explained by director Rachel McDonald's program notes when she declares:
"This play needs to happen somewhere savage and epic...So, we created a fantasy monarchy, ruling a 'Britain' that alludes to known times and places but refuses to be contained. We reference the Ottoman Empire, Dubai and Monaco. It is like a science-fiction world in this respect, simultaneously ancient, contemporary and retro."
All these comments prove to me is that the director doesn't really know what she wants it to be. Mixing ancient, contemporary and retro elements is an ambitious vision from a director, especially for something as revered as Shakespeare, but the main stage at MTC is not the venue to try it out.
Review appeared at: http://theatrevirgin.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/review-queen-lear.html
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