Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre Review : King Lear - Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg - Barbican (dir Lev Dodin 11/10/06)

I have written elsewhere of the liberating effect of performing Shakespeare in translation. In this production, Lear is not so much liberated as turned inside out, the play being reduced to the stark essentials of Shakespeare's bleak vision.

This is Lear as tyrant and abusive father, whose relationship with his daughters is full of sexual as well as political tension, and who spells out his sexual frustration in a torrent of orotund abuse at Goneril after first drawing his finger lingeringly round her nipple and caressing her womb. His response to dead Cordelia is to kiss her passionately on the lips with his hand up her skirt. This is no cheap sensationalism, but a coherent reinterpretation of the text which in part explains why both Regan and Goneril are drawn to the dangerous energy of Edmund.

Visually the production was superb, the death of set and costume designer David Borovsky being rightly mourned by Lev Dodin in the programme. The stark stage, the dramatic white crinolines and partlets of the daughters will dwell in the imagination.

Inspirationally, the Fool is a pianist who plays Lear's haunting theme with restraint or gusto according to mood. Yet after the Fool disappears after the storm scene, the piano reveals itself to be a pianola, repeating the same themes.

Not everything worked. Blinding Gloucester in darkness lessened its impact. The four main protagonists standing naked in the storm tended to silliness. But it was still a striking and provocative piece of theatre.

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