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.