Theatre review: King Lear - Summer Shakespeare, University of Auckland

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Michael Neill brings compelling clarity to his delivery of Shakespeare's dense poetics.

Michael Hurst and Michael Neill in the no-nonsense approach to  King Lear . Photo / Oliver Rosser
Michael Hurst and Michael Neill in the no-nonsense approach to King Lear . Photo / Oliver Rosser

King Lear is a fine choice for a celebration of Summer Shakespeare's 50th year, and a production featuring some of our most distinguished practitioners delivers a stirring tribute to an institution that has often been a lonely prophetic voice proclaiming the enduring value of Shakespeare's vision.

The play does not require any contemporary references to underline its relevance, but news of the Pope's resignation presents an uncanny analogy to Lear's rash decision to divide his kingdom among his daughters.

Director Lisa Harrow, returning from a spectacular international career, opts for a traditional style of production that honours the text by eschewing any intrusive conceptual baggage.

The no-nonsense approach brings precision to the complex narrative and allows the richness of the language to shine but also engenders a somewhat gentrified feeling.

In a discreet nod to the future, the Duke of Albany's concluding speech about the younger generation needing to "speak what we feel not what we ought to say" is given to a young court attendant, and the production might have benefited if it had taken this advice to heart and accepted a measured infusion of youthful irreverence.

Michael Neill brings compelling clarity to his delivery of Shakespeare's dense poetics especially as Lear hurls impossibly eloquent curses at his ungrateful daughters. But he rises to rage early and never shakes the tone of simmering anger even as his sense of identity unravels.

Michael Hurst's easy familiarity with the text is leavened with ironic humour that finds sparkling lucidity in the Fool's complex puns, while Geoff Snell's Gloucester and Peter Stephen's Kent bring a strong sense of gravitas to the King's loyal supporters.

The more emotionally engaging performances come from the younger cast members, with Calum Gittins finding an edgy arrogance in the bastard Edmund while Andrew Paterson's Edgar effectively blurs the boundaries between role-playing and authentic experience.

The simplicity of Jessika Verryt's set evokes the Globe itself with an empty circular platform surrounded by steeply raked seating scaffold, though a montage of astronomical photographs seemed redundant in Auckland's unfolding night sky.

Theatre

What: King Lear - Summer Shakespeare
Where: University of Auckland (behind the Clock Tower) until March 30

- NZ Herald

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