November 29th 2016. Reviewed by Jerome Corby
There can be few things more rewarding in life than delivering a night of theatre that captivates an audience as fully as Run of The Mill Theatre did tonight. A packed house was witness to a superb reworking of the great tragedy of King Lear. I dare say Shakespeare would have been proud of such a production. Arts and theatre makers with intellectual disabilities from the St. John of God Services in Dublin and North Kildare realised an ambitious undertaking beautifully.
In a devised production, which this accomplished ensemble has worked over the past year, the themes of aging, dementia and vulnerability get a sensitive treatment worthy of the medieval tale and its modern setting. A minimal set allows great use of mime, light and sound to create the eerie sense of foreboding in the story.
But the performances are what bring the whole production to life.
On entry, we are treated to a view of the court anticipating the arrival of the king with trepidation. On his arrival, Lear (Mark Smith in a commanding performance) is clearly unhappy and tired of his monarchy, but wants to make sure he hands his kingdom over to the daughter who loves him most.
Cue Goneril (Jane Ryan) and Regan (Ella-Jane Moore) who make great showings of their love for the king, including some superb dancing which had the audience (and the king) in thrall. A lovely understated performance by Michelle Brennan as Cordelia, unwilling to lie to him for her own gain, suitably enrages the easily-deceived father and she is disowned – she marries the King of France, played exuberantly by Neil Coffey.
Kent (the excellent Wesley Fairbrother), faithful servant to the king, is banished from the kingdom when he tries to alert Lear to his unfair treatment of Cordelia, but returns in the disguise of Caius to support the monarch when he discovers the duplicity of his two older daughters. Bad guy Edmund is ably played by John Egan.
The old king’s therapy sessions with the psychologist (played by Kate Bauer who provides splendid costume and assists the performers discreetly and expertly throughout) bring some excellent comedic moments. Smith and his colleagues know how to work an audience, and they do so regularly.
The supporting cast, in particular the demons, bring a menacing quality to the nightmare scenes, especially later on, when Lear descends into madness. Fine stage visuals (by Sean Cunningham) help to generate the desired effects here.
An inspired production, deftly directed by Aisling Byrne, designed by Ciaran O’Melia, with a nuanced text by Oonagh Murphy, and sound by Susie Birmingham with Ellen Gorman and an effective team stage-managing, ensures a thoroughly entertaining spectacle for everyone. Everyone should see this talented group in the first-rate surroundings of Draíocht, so if you can beg borrow or steal a ticket for the last performance Wednesday 30th – well, I’m not advising anyone to steal a ticket…