King Lear – A Review

Last night (February 9th, 2013), I took my daughters and a friend of mine to see King Lear at the Abbey Theatre.

It was the first time my children (aged 8 & 10) had been to the Abbey, and also their introduction to staged Shakespeare. I worry that they have been spoilt and will expect such excellence every time they set foot in the Abbey or experience Shakespeare.

I have been involved with theatre, in one capacity or another, for almost 25 years – and what I was privileged to witness last night was the best I have ever seen. Beg, borrow, steal or sell your virtue to get yourself a ticket to see this production.

The cast worked so well together it was almost frightening; they breathed as one body, they moved as one body, they wove a web and pulled me in to their world on gossamer threads.

The energy and physicality of the entire ensemble was astounding. They were not only good at what they were doing – they were clearly indulging their own passion, which made being an audience member even more of a privilege. There is nothing more wonderful than watching truly talented craftspeople practice their craft.

I laughed (oh Fool, you are no fool), I cried (King Lear’s anguished roars of grief when he discovered Cordelia’s lifeless body pierced this mother’s heart), I squirmed (poor Glousceter’s eyes),  I gasped (Ladies, your treachery knows no bounds!), I nodded with satisfaction (Edmund, you deserved your come-uppance).  I fell slightly in love (Oh, King of France, your honourable treatment of Cordelia was an aphrodisiac).  I may never recover.

The set (designed by Garance Marneur) was  ingenious, yet not intrusive. Gaby Rooney’s costumes were equally cleverly designed and just as subtle.

The direction – by Selina Cartmell – was testament to the intelligence of a director who truly engages with the text and uncovers layers that other, more careless, eyes and hearts might miss.  The way Ms Cartmell directs leaves us in no doubt that she truly loves her actors and wants them to bring the best of themselves to the stage.

This production of King Lear is a manifestation of the the kind of alchemy that only occurs when all the stars – celestial and terrestrial – are aligned and in true collaboration.

Owen Roe gave a marvellous portrayal of the eponymous king, while Tina Kelleher and Caoilfhionn Dunne were magnificent as the scheming sisters Goneril and Regan, respectively. Beth Cooke was wonderfully poised and majestic in the role of Cordelia.

Hugh O’Conor resisted the temptation to overplay his role as the fool. Instead, he gave a beautifully understated performance spilling his pearls of wisdom with a nonchalance belying their value.

Lorcan Cranitch‘s Earl of Gloucester was everything that fine fellow should be – though I felt physically ill when Phelim Drew‘s Earl of Cornwall plucked out his eyes: Both Drew’s delight in the act and Cranitch’s howls and twitches of pain rendered me nauseous.

As for the dogs – how gorgeous were they – and how fitting a nod to the motif of the Abbey itself?