‘King Lear Monster Show!’ was apocalyptic.
Shakespeare’s classic ‘King Lear’ receives a radical revival by Michael Beh in The Curators’ Theatre’s latest production ‘King Lear Monster Show!’ Presented in the heart of Brisbane City at Christ Church in Milton, this show was a whirlwind of high fashion, larger-than-life characters and lecherous danger.
‘King Lear’ is a Shakespeare tragedy, estimated to have been written in 1608, around the same time as ‘Othello’ and ‘Macbeth’. Having reached the age of 80, the widowed King Lear calls his nobles together to announce his intention to pass on the cares and responsibility of monarchy to his three daughters. Before dividing his kingdom, however, Lear challenges his daughters to prove which of them loves him best. Ignorance and deceit abound in this tale, and those unable to see past their vanity to recognise the truth. Like most Shakespeare, it has been performed and retold countless times across the globe.
In the world of Beh’s ‘King Lear’, Lighting Designer David Willis threw the landscape into truly haunting light and shade to match the grotesque events. With colours that popped and some clever focussing in moments of importance – such as many of the Fool’s foreboding speeches – Willis brought clarity to the busy stage. Vision Designer Nathaniel Knight also contributed some eye-catching effects – subtitles in various interesting fonts projected onto the back of stage – and certainly helped us understand the multilingual aspects of the show. Both Willis and Knight had found an inventive and engaging technical style to uncover Lear’s dominion.
Sound Design by Brian Cavanagh had whispers of the old and the new, and in this adaptation, of the far, radical future. Remixed versions of ‘Beethoven’s First’ combined with sharp, electric tones brought a futuristic feel to the show, along with dark, throbbing ambience to position us in the apocalypse.
Set and Costume Design by Beth Scott and Beh stood out in the show. Visually stunning, there was always something interesting to observe, from a satanic-looking platform engulfed in silvery scraps, to layered, sequinned and often risque costumes that looked as if the characters had dressed in whatever they could get their hands on. You want to look your best when the apocalypse comes, says the show programme. What else would you wear when society is crumbling around you? What else would you wear when you’re dressing to impress your lovers, enemies and parents?
Beh’s adaptation and subsequent direction brought alive a vibrant tale of deceit, lust and deadly consequences. Bold choices were made in taking Shakespeare’s original text to the fully formed monster that it was, incorporating commentary on current times and speculating on the future: post-democracy, post-pandemics and post-capitalism. The result was an eclectic and disturbing warning for today. Weaving in the central family conflict of the original, we are also personally asked about our relationship with others: how we treat and value personal freedoms, who do we turn to in times of great peril, and do we deserve love and protection from those people? The atmosphere of this adaptation was a damning sense of judgment, and like all Shakespeare plays, the ultimate question of good versus evil. Beh was able to keep us on our seats with fresh interpretation while also honouring the timeless original.
The cast were a delight to watch, not only due to their flamboyant personalities, but the intensity of their heightened characterisation. King Lear was played by Warwick Comber, who was impressive and stole the show with his presence. Amanda McErlean was Goneril, the eldest of Lear’s daughters, and played with complexity and urgency. Willem Whitfield played the lecherous Edmund and grabbed the attention of the audience with his two-sided nature. Lear’s second daughter Regan was played by Sherri Smith, who was villainous and witty; she didn’t hesitate to pack a punch with her ruthlessness. Rounding out the excellent cast was Eleonora Ginardi as the Fool, Kent/Kanga as Greg Scurr, Lauren Roche as Cordelia/Minx Magnificent, Julia Johnson as Gloucester, and Cameron Hurry as Edgar/Poor Tom.
‘King Lear Monster Show!’ is a fascinating piece of theatre and needs to be seen to be believed. The Curators have once again engineered a unique and challenging work that questions the society around us. As Lear says, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?”
‘King Lear Monster Show!’ performed until Sunday 5 June at Christ Church, Milton. For more information visit The Curator’s Theatre website.
Photos provided by The Curator’s Theatre