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KING LEAR (article first published : 2006-02-20)

Review by Margaret von Klemperer of performance of "King Lear" at Hilton College Theatre. The production will open in the Playhouse Drama this week.

Before this Actor’s Co-operative production of King Lear begins, director Clare Mortimer comes out on stage to ask her audience of secondary school pupils to pay the actors the courtesy of listening to and concentrating on their work. Those who do will be rewarded with a slick, accessible version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy.

The stage is bare, except for a coral-coloured circle, representing the map of Lear’s kingdom which he intends to divide among his daughters. Apart from that, a few rusty-looking swords and a very active smoke machine, the actors present their story of generational conflict, foolishness, greed, cruelty and madness unaided.

Ron Smerczak gives a robust and powerful performance in the title role. He is a hasty, intemperate king whose disastrous mistake at the outset leads inexorably to tragedy. And once his concept of himself as king and father has been demolished by Goneril and Regan – chillingly cynical portraits by Mortimer and Josette Eales - Smerczak gives Lear a pathos and dignity on his road to madness. His recognition of the blinded Gloucester (a good performance by Thomie Holtzhausen) is a moving moment, as is the final scene with the hanged Cordelia.

The play has been pruned to bring the action down to two hours but the cuts are in general sympathetic to the text; perhaps a little more could have been made of the role of the Fool, but the essentials are all here. Neil Coppen, an actor who is getting better and better with each appearance, makes his Edmund a self-aware villain and the undercurrents of lust between Regan, Goneril, Edmund and Oswald contribute plenty of electricity to the production. In fact, all the performers deserve credit.

The Actor’s Co-operative deserve thanks for giving those who are studying Lear an opportunity to see an intelligent production of the play. So it was a pity that for the performance I attended, two schools could not be bothered to turn up on time, meaning a significantly late start - tough on actors who are giving two performances of a long and difficult work in one morning and deserve a decent break between them. Maybe it was no surprise that the worst of the moronic response to aspects of the play – from a minority of the audience – came from among the latecomers.

It is high time that teachers taking pupils to see a play made the effort to explain that live theatre is not the same thing as an MTV video. It demands more, but can give much, much more in return. – Margaret von Klemperer

King Lear runs in the Playhouse Drama Theatre at 09h00 and 12h00 on weekdays until March 24. There will be public evening performances at 19h00 on February 24 and March 2 and 17. For information and to book, phone Margie Coppen on 031 266 7892 or 083 251 9412.




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