Review: King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

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King Lear, Mill Productions, dlr Mill Theatre, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe

This production opens with pulsating music, flashes of light, and three gyrating figures moving under the sway of some mesmeric force, so that for a few startling moments you might be at a production of Macbeth rather than King Lear. These are not the weird sisters, however, but Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia who face away from the audience towards a large structure upstage while human actors transformed into wolves snarl and weave around them. Suddenly the stage lights are reversed, dazzling the audience, and the actors’ faces turn to the back of the auditorium: the King is entering.

The large structure ­– half set and half stage property – resembles part of a huge crown with three spikes each jutting in a separate direction, the whole piece off-centre and its balance slightly off-kilter. In the centre is a throne, empty at first, then occupied by Lear, and later hovered over, circled, and sat on by various other characters. This is clearly a disturbed kingdom where powerful forces have gone askew, where there is splintering rather than unity, and where a sense of preternatural menace hums beneath the institutions of state, family, and marriage. It is quickly understood, then, that the sisters’ dance is not an expression of communion but of compulsion and disharmony.

Mill Productions is the production wing of dlr Mill Theatre and this production of King Lear is part of their “education outreach”. When I attended on opening night last Wednesday, about half the audience were a school group who seemed engaged in the performance throughout. The production does a good job of communicating the plot and character relationships clearly without condescending to the viewer at any point, and of showing how the visual and aural language of theatre generate the play’s meaning as it is lifted off the page. A number of characters are played by the same actor, as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time, but this doubling was never confusing.

It was also made use of artistically in the case of the choice to double the parts of Cordelia and the Fool, played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan. There has been speculation since the nineteenth century about whether the roles – which are never simultaneously on stage – might originally have been doubled. This production seemed to encourage us to consider in parallel how Cordelia and the Fool relate to Lear, challenging but loving him, and the first half ends with the Fool in tears and alone taking off his coxcomb hat to reveal more clearly that this was also Cordelia’s face. Such a choice does pose certain obstacles, however, and perhaps hampered the development of both characters.

I enjoyed the cool malice of Sharon McCoy’s multifaceted Goneril who managed to be both fragile and terrible. Philip Judge succeeded in presenting a Lear who was clearly deeply flawed at the same time as sympathetic. When he laid his head in the Fool’s lap and implored “O let me not be mad, not mad”, his desperation and vulnerability were heartrending. So too was his later admission to Cordelia that “to deal plainly / I fear I am not in my perfect mind”, where the gentle cautiousness of the delivery alongside the situation’s absurdity made it truly moving. It was these moments of pathos for humanity as the trappings of civility are eroded, even as we recognise human culpability, that stayed with me after I left the theatre.

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King Lear runs at dlr Mill Theatre until 28 October with nearly daily matinée performances at 10am and 1.30pm. Contact the Box Office for 10am and 1.30pm performances please – info@milltheatre.ie / 01-2969340. There will be evening performances at 7.30pm on Wednesday 25th October and Thursday 26th October.

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Review: Venus and Adonis at Civic Theatre, Tallaght

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This exciting, moving, and thought-provoking adaptation of Shakespeare’s narrative poem opens with a theatre within a theatre, the ornate gilt proscenium in miniature glowing in the blackness of the Civic Theatre. The puppets are about a third life size, according to Gregory Doran’s programme notes, and their smallness and that of the set contributes to a feeling of a magical vignette into the otherworldly that persists for the duration of the production.

Most astonishing is the aliveness of the Bunraku puppets representing Venus and Adonis. The play also includes marionettes (puppets with strings) and shadow puppets, seen swooping behind a screen upstage, but it is the main characters’ expressive and fluent movements that imbue them with personalities of their own – one might even imagine changing facial expressions ­– as they are manipulated by a black-clad team.

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In Japan, the home of Bunraku puppetry, the manipulators cover their heads and faces in black as well as the rest of their body, but in this production the manipulators’ faces are visible throughout. Their faces seem to channel the emotions the puppets are feeling and they also vocalise for the characters (human and animal) at points throughout the performance, sighing or crying out alongside the narration.

It is in the intimacy between puppet, manipulator, and narrator that the play is most compelling. The puppets’ liveliness and seeming humanity, on the one hand, and the manipulators’ large dark presence behind them directing their actions, on the other hand, suggest the poignancy of human desire and our striving for self-determination amidst external forces so integral we don’t even notice them. Such forces are sometimes mysterious as in the second part of the performance when – to the collective gasp of the audience – the stage set itself transforms and takes up an uncomprehending Venus. When Adonis’s immobile dead body is tenderly picked up by his manipulator and carried away, there is a true feeling of loss and mortality.

Towards the end of the play Venus searches in the woodland for Adonis and the narrator describes her worried cries resounding in a “choir of echoes”: “’Ay me!’ she cries, and twenty times ‘Woe, woe!’ / And twenty echoes twenty times cry so”. In a fundamental sense, it is a production characterised by echoes, multiplication, and layers. This unfurls on the level of the performance, with the accompanying guitarist to one side of the stage and the narrator to the other, looking the part of a storyteller with her stack of books and comfortable chair, the proscenium structure in the centre with its elevated stage and a kind of detached thrust stage behind which the manipulators stand and move, and the use of a range of puppet technologies – as well as an introductory frame showing Shakespeare writing a dedication to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, as the narrator voices the words and marionettes move upstage.

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The narrative structure also layers and reflects, with the key scenes between Venus and Adonis paralleled by wonderful scenes from the natural world involving lovelorn horses, hares and boars, and with Venus’s examination of Adonis’s corpse being prefigured in Adonis’s tending to Venus in her swoon. But the overall effect of the production is not one of fracturing but of fluidity and expansiveness, reflecting the exquisite orchestration of the manipulators seamlessly working together on the puppets, and suggesting the multiplicity of life.

Venus and Adonis was hugely popular when it was first published in 1593 and remained Shakespeare’s most popular printed work in his lifetime. On its opening night at Civic Theatre, this “puppet masque” version of the poem engaged, delighted, and surprised its audience, who entered fully into the performance, laughing freely, gasping, and finally offering a standing ovation.


Venus and Adonis is a Royal Shakespeare Company production in association with Little Angel Theatre, and is presented by Civic Theatre in association with Dublin Theatre Festival. It runs at Civic Theatre as part of the festival until Saturday 7 October with performances at 8pm, and additional matinées on Friday at 5pm and Saturday at 3pm. You can buy tickets here.

  • DATE & TIME: Tues 3 – Sat 7 October // 8pm // Matinees on Wed 4 at 3pm, Fri 6 at 5pm, Sat 7 at 3pm
  • TICKETS: €25 & €23 concession
  • DEALS: STUDENTS: €10 – matinees only | MEAL DEAL: €36 ticket + 2 course meal | GROUPS – €20

Civic Theatre are also offering a Joy of Shakespeare workshop on Saturday 7 October from 10.30am to 1.30pm, free when you buy a ticket to the play. Call 01 4627477 to book.

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King Lear at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

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King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Co. Dublin

Mill Productions present what is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s crowning artistic achievement. King Lear is set in the court of an aging British monarch. Shakespeare probably wrote it in around 1604, sandwiched between two other great tragedies, Othello and Macbeth. Mill Productions, having produced Macbeth in 2013 and Othello in 2014 now set to bring the ultimate Shakespearian tragedy King Lear to the stage. Directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe and featuring a talented professional cast, this is a traditional production, with genuinely gripping and often affecting performances which sharpen our understanding of Shakespeare’s analysis of human folly and strive to do justice to this greatest of plays.

Starring Philip Judge as Lear.

Evening Performances at 7.30pm:
Wednesday 11th October
Thursday 12th October
Wednesday 25th October
Thursday 26th October

 

Divining Shakespeare: workshop for professional actors, Civic Theatre, 5 October

Coinciding with the production of Venus and Adonis at Civic Theatre as part of the Dublin Shakespeare Festival, there will be a workshop for professional actors on ‘Divining Shakespeare’. Further details on the theatre website:

DATE & TIME: Thursday 5 October // 10am – 6pm

LOCATION: Main Auditorium

TICKETS: FREE when you buy a full price ticket for Venus and Adonis

TO BOOK CALL 01 4627477

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As part of an ongoing commitment to the support of and engagement with professional theatre artists, the Civic Theatre will host a dedicated professional workshop.

‘Finding the truth through the verse’ lies at the heart of the puzzle of how to act Shakespeare. Hamlet gave the single clearest command when he instructed the players to speak it ‘trippingly on the tongue’, but what does that really mean? Are there specific techniques or approaches that empower the actor to merge with often dense, multi-layered text, to seem as if both are freshly coined together? This workshop will explore these and many other issues, including how our actors are born to play Shakespeare – but only if they stay true to being Irish first.

The workshop is open to professional actors only and is facilitated by Civic Artistic Director, Michael Barker-Caven. Michael is an internationally acclaimed theatre, musical and opera director who has worked extensively in London’s West End and directed dozens of award-winning shows in Ireland over the past 20 years. Michael has a lifelong love of Shakespeare with acclaimed productions of Richard III, Macbeth and Venus & Adonis to his name to name but a few.

Adequate time for meal breaks is given, though participants are responsible for their own meals.

The workshops are limited to 16 participants.

Suitable for professional actors only.

Minimum age requirement is 18 years old.

The workshop is free when you buy a ticket to Venus and Adonis at the Civic Theatre. Buy Tickets here.

Dublin Theatre Festival: Venus and Adonis, 3–7 October

Venus and Adonis, Royal Shakespeare Company in association with Little Angel Theatre, UK

Civic Theatre
Oct 3 & 5, 8pm Oct 4 & 7, 3pm & 8pm Oct 6, 5pm & 8pm
Tickets €25

A unique version of Shakespeare’s kaleidoscopic poem using narration, music and puppetry.  This little-known gem was Shakespeare’s first bestseller, weaving together comedy, tragedy and beautiful poetry to tell the raunchy story of Venus and her obsession with handsome Adonis.

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Theatre: The Merchant of Venice at St. Enda’s Park, Dublin

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21–24 June 2017, 8pm

Balally Players takes Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to St. Enda’s Park Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin for its Summer Shakespeare 2017 presentation.

The play, directed by Fiona Walsh, will be performed outdoors in the Walled Garden, St. Enda’s Park from 21 to 24 June 2017. The performance starts at 8pm each evening and tickets (€14/€12) may be booked at the Mill Theatre Box Office (01-296 9340) or on the Mill Theatre website.

For further details go to www.balallyplayers.com