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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

KING LEAR (article first published : 2006-03-3)

Tonight I was privileged to see one of the all-too-few public performances running in the Playhouse Drama of King Lear, a production devised for schools by Garth Anderson’s Actors Co-Operative and directed by Clare Mortimer.

This excellent two-act presentation of Shakespeare’s powerful tragedy is played out on a stark black stage, bare save for two standing vellum-covered lights on crossed poles and a sand-coloured circle indicating King Lear’s kingdom - which he so rashly divides between his two least-deserving daughters.

In the title role is veteran actor Ron Smerczak whose award-winning role in Gulls I shall never forget. He gives a superb and towering performance in one of the most compelling and finely-crafted interpretations of Lear I have yet to see. He skilfully extracts the humour – and there is much – from the text without turning the role into a caricature. His degeneration from an arrogant, all-powerful monarch into a broken-hearted, sick and slightly demented old man- but never as mad as he seems! – is masterful.

From his most furious bellow of outrage to his gentlest stroking whisper, he is utterly believable from start to finish and school audiences should consider themselves extremely lucky to have this complex role interpreted for them so handsomely.

However, like any magnificent painting, if the framing is not professional, complementary and equally well-presented, the main image cannot achieve its true potential. The “framing” of King Lear - in this case, the rest of the cast, is to be highly commended for their good performances all round, without which there would be a negative imbalance between the lead figure and support roles.

Beautiful scenes come to mind – his spirited arguments with his daughters Goneril and Regan (nice chilling intensity from Clare Mortimer and Josette Eales); where Lear is finally reconciled with the now-blind Earl of Gloucester (exellently portrayed by Thomie Holtzhausen) and his agonised scene over the body of his beloved Cordelia (sensitively played by the luminous Belinda Henwood) just before he dies.

Ron Smerczak is a very physical actor and it is evident that this dramatic power has transferred itself to the rest of the cast. Strong performances came from Jacobus van Heerden (Edgar) and Neil Coppen (his malevolent half-brother Edmund). Rowan Bartlett (Kent), Adam Dore (Duke of Cornwall), Iain Robinson (Duke of Albany) and Dean Roberts (Oswald) provide the remainder of a solid infrastructure.

The member of the cast with arguably the least professional theatre experience, Brian Wallace highly impressed in his role as the Fool. It is to his credit that he matched Ron Smerczak’s performance in their many scenes together. Watch him!

Clare Mortimer is to be commended for her strong direction of a swiftly-moving and compelling production.

There is one more public performance of King Lear on March 17 at 19h00. Bookings through Margie Coppen on 031 266 7892 or 083 251 9412. Whatever you’re doing that night, cancel it and see this one! – Caroline Smart




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