Lear at Samuel Beckett Theatre

Valda Setterfield features as the titular role in John Scott’s Lear, a performer who boasts a slew of impressive credentials with a career spanning several decades working with the likes of Woody Allen and Caryl Churchill. She is accompanied by dancers Mufutau Yusuf, Ryan O’Neill and Kevin Coquelard (Goneril, Regan and Cordelia respectively) who simultaneously portray the Fool in a highly amusing vaudeville manner. The set is presented as a clinical white dance mat, quotations from the play fixed upon the back wall, and a simple yet effective wash lighting design.

The ambience is set in motion by Tom Lane’s eerie composition, followed by the division of the kingdom in which the three “daughters” dance for Lear’s affection. Setterfield captures the full attention of the audience despite doing very little, merely reacting to the dancers surrounding her and delivering lines from the Bard himself. Unfortunately any sense of awe or wonder surrounding the piece slowly begins to diminish as it abruptly moves into what is clearly the “next section”. This segment indulges the dancers breaking character for a camp “diva” moment that neither perpetuated nor improved the storytelling.

Lear is less dance and more of a theatrical performance, weaving text and movement together quite seamlessly. However the overall pace suffers in places, jumping between ideas rapidly and often incoherently in attempts to keep the plot of Lear up-to-date for what is deemed to be a contemporary audience. The most redeeming and thought-provoking factor of this production is the exploration of loneliness in old age and its effects on those individuals.

Overall, Lear seems to be an exercise in mediocrity, relying on Setterfields engaging presence to carry the production and, at eighty-two, she proves that age has no limit on commanding performativity. Unfortunately, this is occasionally distracted from due to the show’s confused staging, decreasing momentum, and inability to define its main themes. If planning on venturing to this production, however, do so for the Storm scene alone – a master class in simple and effective staging.

Ciarán Gallagher.

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