A kingdom ruled by an ageing, authoritarian monarch is fractured by pride, folly and avarice in Shakespeare’s epic tragedy, King Lear.
When the deteriorating King Lear misjudges the loyalty of their children, the struggle for power becomes unflinchingly violent and callous, and ultimately leads to devastating consequences. Prepare to see Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it before, as Echo Theatre’s electrifying new production promises to be a spectacle of otherworldly proportions.
We had a quick chat with the show’s Director, Joel Horwood (they/them), about Echo’s upcoming production of King Lear at The Q. We find out what to expect and how it has been shaped to fit modern-day audiences.
For those readers that don’t know, can you tell us about the essence of King Lear?
It’s a family drama at its core. King Lear forces us to confront our own humanity and dismantle our preconceptions of power. Approaching the play, I was really fascinated by the dynamic between parents and children. From the outset, I knew that I wanted to cast a female in the role of Lear, and that opened up some fascinating conversations around mother/daughter dynamics, and the heightened pressure that often arises from parental expectations of their same-gendered offspring.
Along with a female Lear I have also altered the gender of several other characters. Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously lopsided in terms of gender. It was really important to me that we reached parity within the cast, without needing to alter the text too heavily.
You often ‘queer up’ the shows you direct. How have you done that with this production?
I’ve adopted a more subtle queering of King Lear than my last show, Hay Fever, where basically everyone was fluid, and heteronormativity went out the window!
King Lear is operating within a fairly strict feudal system, at least until Lear decides to dismantle that by splitting the kingdom between their three daughters. I’m taking that dismantling of the system a step further and exploring what it would mean for one of those daughters to marry a woman. How might that affect their lineage and, thus, their claim to power? I’m also sprinkling in some queer moments between other characters, but you’ll have to pay close attention to find those!
With King Lear played by a female actor, how has that changed the play?
I had a number of discussions early on with Karen Vickery, who plays Lear, about whether we should keep Lear as a male King, played by a female actor, or completely shift the role to a Queen. In the end, I found the latter choice more interesting. There are unique dynamics that arise in relationships between mothers and daughters (fathers and sons, too — daddy issues? I’ve got plenty!) and having a female Queen with three daughters gifted us with some beautifully fertile ground for exploring these complex familial dynamics. Taking a character that is written as male and translating their actions through the body and worldview of someone female-presenting is fascinating.
There’s one speech in particular where Lear essentially curses the eldest daughter, Goneril, with sterility. This coming from a mother rather than a father somehow feels so much more cruel and poignant.
What’s your favourite moment?
We’re still quite early in the rehearsal process, but there are some gorgeous moments unfolding between Lear and her Fool, played by the luminescent Petronella van Tienen. Both Karen and Petronella are such emotionally intelligent actors, and watching the way they intuitively respond to one another on stage is a joy to behold. On the other hand, I’m really looking forward to working on the eye-gouging scene in Act Three.
It’s horrifically brutal and a little bit camp, two of my favourite things! I encourage everyone to come along and experience Shakespeare in a fresh new way.
Echo Theatre’s production of King Lear opens on 29 November for six performances only. Don’t miss this inventive rendering of Shakespeare’s familiar story when it arrives at The Q. For tickets and more information, head to theq.net.au