Dublin Theatre Festival: Review - Everyone Is King Lear In His Own Home
Smock Alley Theatre
Pan Pan theatre company like to reimagine great plays. They've done Hamlet with a real, live Great Dane; Oedipus with a garage band; The Playboy in Mandarin.
Now, they give us Lear with a real, live mouse and set in a shoebox apartment, a replica of actor Andrew Bennett's own. There's also a real, live shower, SpongeBob SquarePants on the telly and a juicer in the kitchen, though something has happened to the hoover, so they have to mime that one. The Velvet Underground plays loud on the stereo, and the apartment block is occasionally wracked by storms.
In this home (impeccably recreated by Aedín Cosgrove) lives a Leary, mad, old man (Andrew Bennett, in an adult nappy). He has a manic episode; a young woman arrives and changes his nappy; they smoke pot. She (Judith Roddy) is presumably his daughter and, steadfast like Cordelia, is clearly his carer; he veers between bewilderment or mania and lucidity. The text, meanwhile, veers between contemporary banality and Shakespeare's own.
Director Gavin Quinn's objective seems to be a theatrical "stress-testing" exercise, where he places the play of King Lear under enormous pressure (cutting away the plot; layering it with mundane domestic detail; placing a live mouse on stage as a distraction) in order to find the emotional essence that emerges. But his theatrical exercises mostly look just that; and the essence he uncovers, shorn of all plot, is a cold one.
This is what madness must be like, Quinn says; this is what lots of people out there are struggling with, or face (particularly, I surmise, with ongoing cuts to home help and pathetic respite facilities).
But the effect is didactic rather than dramatic. It is like catching a glimpse through the window of an apartment opposite of a mad old man and his sad, struggling daughter; how awful, you think, and then you pull the curtains.