King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum



Having already seen five productions of King Lear since 2013 and lusted after tickets for numerous others, I am of the firm belief that this play is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and that there is always something new to be drawn out of its rich text, and I suspect I am not alone in this belief. It is regularly produced on stage, Beckett drew inspiration from it for Worstward Ho, there have been multiple screen adaptations of it, and quotes from the text abound in our daily speech. Under the direction of Geoffrey O’Keefe, Mill Productions’ King Lear certainly recognises the versatility of the text and, while producing a straightforward enough production particularly aimed at Leaving Cert. students, capitalises on it successfully in a number of instances, particularly with its gender-swapped Fool.

The interactions between the Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) and Lear (Phillip Judge) are some of the highlights of the production as the nuances of their relationship evolve and the ever-intriguing and affecting power-dynamic between the two characters is well developed. Judge’s overall portrayal of Lear is, however, inconsistent; the transitions between different emotions and states of mind often come across as abrupt and contrived, losing some credibility in their haste.  Similarly there are instances where Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) fall into a character type and play their characters with broad strokes that are not always plausible. Despite these issues (which may be resolved as the cast settle into the script after opening-night), the performances are mostly impressive. Michael David McKernan delivers an excellent Edmund, finding the precarious balance between the deplorable elements of his character and the seductiveness of his conspiratorial role as written by Shakespeare in his numerous asides to the audience.

There is strong symbolism in the design of the production, with Gerard Bourke’s set design evoking a three-pointed crown looming large over the action on stage and Kris Mooney’s lighting design playing with shadow to great effect. The sound design, created by Declan Brennan, is less successful. Though it hints at interesting ideas around territory and competition, the running theme of animal noises, a symbol which is also introduced in the feral, animalistic movement in the opening scene, is not woven through the direction of the piece enough to be effective throughout. Instead there is a sense that it was an idea that was inserted into the production rather than one that evolved through it. Alongside this, the sheer volume during the storm scene drowns Lear’s speech, detracting from the strength of the scene.

In the words of the Fool, “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest.” Had the symbolism been more subtly woven throughout, and had the performances indulged in a little more grey than black and white, some more of this production’s potential may have been realised. Mill Productions’ King Lear explores interesting and promising approaches to the play, but suffers from a lack of flow in terms of performance and sound design that disjoints it and at times leaves the audience feeling jolted through the play.

King Lear – Review

Originally published in TN2 Magazine.


Purple Coat Productions

Smock Alley


Shakespeare’s King Lear is a play of many layers, exploring the intensely personal hand-in-hand with the political. Telling the story of King Lear and his gradual descent into madness after dividing his property between his daughters according to their flattery of him, leaving his honest youngest daughter, Cordelia, with nothing, this play has the potential to sharply and insightfully examine ideas around power, madness, family, love and ageing.

A good production of King Lear depends on so much more than just the text. One such thing it depends on is a director to tease out the different themes, textures and ideas within the script. There is no teasing in Karl Falconer’s direction of this production. Throughout, the audience is presented with loud, brash images of incest, drug abuse and sexual assault that, in the context of the play, seem out of place and unjustified. The numerous instances of Lear groping his daughters and the violent sexual imagery that pervade the production suggest attempts at a cheap, base, and ineffective directorial shortcut to shock and an emotional response from the audience.  Similarly the inclusion of a poorly depicted cocaine addiction in Edmund’s character comes across as an attempt to shock the audience or assert the company’s non-traditional take on the play, but once again plays out as an unsuccessful shortcut.

Not only does the production fall short in terms of thematic execution, it also fails in numerous technical aspects of direction, performance and design.  Despite the fact that most of the ground level seating in the Boys School space is on the same level or a very slight slant, a large portion of the action in the play was placed downstage and close to the floor at a crouching level or lower to the ground. This meant that most of the audience were craning their necks and stretching to see what was happening; even though I was sitting in the centre of the second row, very close to the stage, I still struggled to see.  Though is a touring production, not one created within or for the Boys School space, it would have taken some relatively simple modifications to the direction to effectively adapt to the new space. Showing similar lack of foresight, parts of Alisha Johnson’s lighting design broke the flow of the piece as the lights came up on a number of occasions across the stage and audience, strongly suggesting an interval and leading to the audience starting to shift in their seats and move to clap. These are simple directorial and technical decisions that had an extensive negative effect on the production overall because of a lack of consideration of the audience’s position in the venue.

Some of the performances could have been salvageable had they not been fighting against poor direction. However, with shouting being used in place of nuanced emotion, an over-egged Poor Tom, and Lear being confined to one tiny upstage spot for what is arguably the most powerful speech in the play, there was no avoiding the myriad directorial issues.

Purple Coat take what they describe as Shakespeare’s “greatest, bleakest and perhaps last great play,” and deliver a coarse production that soon derails itself with cheap tropes and attempted dramatic shortcuts. To steal words from the bard himself, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

King Lear runs in Smock Alley until the 12th July before touring.

King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum



King Lear is my favourite Shakespeare play and consequently I automatically set high standards for any production of it, but Mill Productions’ take on King Lear did not disappoint.

From the opening the lighting stood out, with Kris Mooney’s design capturing the atmosphere and heightening the emotion in every scene perfectly. This was particularly so in the final tableaux with Lear, Cordelia and Edgar which was visually stunning.  Another interesting aspect of the lighting was the engagement with shadows, particularly by the Fool, which added another level of effective visual expression to the production.

Lenny Hayden as Lear and Shane O’Regan as the Fool both delivered impressive performances. Both handled the language with dexterity and worked excellently together as a pair. O’Regan captured the balance between eccentricity and wisdom in the Fool effectively. The rest of the cast all delivered competent and engaging performances, though Paul Elliot as Edmund did at points over-act, with too much shouting and high tension performance at times where it was not necessary.

The opening scene, with the Fool scampering in and starting a dynamic movement scene was an intriguing and captivating one. However, it was not followed through in the piece, which I would like to have seen. Had there been a stronger thread of that movement through the piece, the opening would have gelled better with the play as a whole. As it was they seemed two disjointed pieces, both effective and engaging, but neither entirely connected to the other.

This production was an entertaining and evocative rendition of Shakespeare’s tragic tale. In its engagement with the characters and its attention to the smaller details, Mill Productions truly brought Lear to life.