King Lear – O’Reilly Theatre – Review by Frank L.
The front of the programme has a facsimile detail from an edition of the text (slightly frayed) which states “KING LEAR A Tragedy in Five Acts by William Shakespeare”. In this production C Company and director Aoife Spillane-Hinks have condensed the tragedy into one continuous Act lasting approximately two hours. The cast has been reduced to seven actors: King Lear (Jonathan White), Gloucester (Simon Goury), Edmund (Jamie O’Neill), Goneril (Susan Bracken), Regan (Maeve Fitzgerald), Cordelia (Breffni Holohan) and Edgar (Mark Fitzgerald). As a result, several characters have been omitted entirely most notably the Fool.
The set is the open stage unadorned to the back wall. There are several run of the mill, utilitarian tables with chairs of a similar pedigree. There is a ladder and several rows of clothes hanging on moveable racks at the side. The cast is on stage as the audience seats itself. After the necessary house announcements, the performance begins with a radio on stage giving the news, almost audible but not quite, but sufficient to make it very difficult to hear what the actors were saying. The radio is turned off and the play starts again. Given the amount of cutting to the text this repetition is difficult to comprehend.
Undoubtedly those who are familiar with the text will be at an advantage as the underlying marital arrangements and jealousies in relation to Lear’s two daughters Goneril and Regan are not fully explained. The omission of the Fool means the insight into Lear’s predicaments which the Fool highlights is absent. As is his role as a type of Greek chorus and as Lear’s conscience.
Allowing for these adjustments this is a stylish interpretation of the play. The simple tables and chairs are used for all sorts of purposes and when coupled with the ladder and a never ending white cloth makes an abstract vision of the Cliffs of Dover.
The quality of the acting is high throughout and Jonathan White was a convincing Lear even if his interpretation was not as self-centred as is often the case. Mark Fitzgerald uses his considerable athletic prowess as Edgar to full effect and Susan Bracken and Maeve Fitzgerald are as merciless as one would expect. Jamie O’Neill as Edmund is their confidante in pursuit of his own grubby ambitions. The role of Gloucester, given the reduction in the text, takes on a greater importance and Simon Goury is at all times imposing even when blinded. Breffni Holohan as Cordelia has the difficult task of acting true to her word, unlike her sisters, in the relationship with her father which she fulfils convincingly.
This production, in its sparseness, allows the talented cast to perform to their strengths. They both move on stage and speak the text with ease. Throughout the tempo is fast moving. It is well worth a visit.
Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks
Designed by Hanna Bowe
Performed by Jonathan White (To Hell in a Handbag, The Quare Fellow, The Comedy of Errors), Simon Coury (The Vortex, Pride and Prejudice, Macbeth), Jamie O’Neill (The Shadow of a Gunman, Hamlet, Borstal Boy), Susan Bracken (Creditors, From Both Hips, The Bear), Maeve Fitzgerald (Bailegangaire, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice), Breffni Holahan (Chekhov’s First Play, Vardo, Quest Love) and Mark Fitzgerald (Hamlet, Luck Just Kissed You Hello, The Plough and the Stars).