Queen no match for a King.
Having studied King Lear many years ago as a student, in all its glory of self-destruction and the dark, reality of the aging decline into madness, I thought it would be refreshing to see an interpretation of a modern kind. Rachel McDonald’s contemporary adaptation, Queen Lear is currently playing as part of the Melbourne Theatre Company line up for 2012 and is sadly far from groundbreaking.
Robyn Nevin takes the challenge of playing the patriarchal Lear by centring her madness on the role of a loving Mother as she retreats into her figurative blindness and consuming insanity at the fault of her three daughters. Although Nevin’s scope and craft is clear, Lear as a Woman just doesn’t quite work nor do McDonald’s edits to the script. She fails to focus on particular themes (most notably and obviously patriarchy) not to mention the total disregard to the Fool’s importance towards Lear’s maddening state. The fool, also a key figure in linking the plotlines of Lear and Gloucester through blindness and loyalty creates confusion and disconnect to the main and sub plots for those who are not well read. The importance of correlation between the two (Fathers) constructs a common ground between the madness caused by being a parent whereas McDonald places the emphasise on power (as a Queen) and less about being a parent. The Age review focuses on Nevin’s own power as a strong woman in society proving to be inspirational to her preparation for the role and although Shakespeare intended for the lines between Power and Parent to be blurred, McDonald seems to be unable to define power as a leader in her play despite casting Nevin for her own personal power within the industry. The review also suggests the play evokes the impossibility of a powerful female, something I am sure McDonald did not wish to project.
Whilst the set designers should be congratulated, the supporting cast should hang their heads along with the costume designers. Regan’s attire was entirely inaccurate for Shakespearian times and although often accepted in a modern spin, the other characters assumed traditional garb, which only proved to be more confusing to what seemed out of place. Aligned with inadequate acting by the supporting cast, Belinda McClory and Genevieve Picot in particular failed to convey the true evil of their respective roles. Alexandra Schepisi as frail Cordelia fails on every level to recreate the compassion and sadness of her character and merely dissolves the role into nothing and combined with a butchered accent, it is nearly impossible to focus for the few moments she is in fact on stage, leaving much to desire about the overall standard of the actresses in this play. An ambitious attempt to celebrate a powerful mother in her decline, regrettably Queen Lear has room for several revisions yet.