at C, Friday 17th August 2012
*Written for http://www.StageWon.co.uk. Published here: http://stagewon.co.uk/news/view/edinburgh-the-madness-of-king-lear-c-venues-review-august2012/*
Perhaps it was a joke which I didn’t get. It may have been, but then the whole audience missed it too. Perhaps The Madness of King Lear is a highly intelligent postmodern comment on avant-gardism in theatre. I doubt it though. Instead, it seems to be little more than two middle aged men performing a pseudo-intellectual, sub-GCSE piece of nonsense.
It’s a very basic and ill-thought premise; the story of King Lear is told using only Lear’s scenes, focussing on his descent to madness. This on its own would be forgivable, but awful ‘dance’ and ‘mime’, with no thought whatsoever, makes the show unwatchable. The silent scenes show very little skill except being able to swirl in circles or float hands around like a mystic. I understand that the mime is intended to reflect Lear’s madness, but instead it only showcases the performers’ ineptitude.
Leofric Kingsford-Smith and Shakti are barely any better at speaking verse; they declaim loudly into the small venue and show little understanding of the text. The emotions remain constant and, though Lear descends into madness in the original, here he is presented as mad from the beginning, which is never really justified.
In all honesty, I found Ira Seidenstein’s direction blatantly disrespectful, not only to us as an audience but also to other performers who use physical theatre and mime well. Thousands of performers are masters of their craft but their art is simply trampled all over here, and this company believe they can replicate it without any work or thought. The presentation of these ideas without any control or effort is nigh-on offensive.
A dreadful ‘soundscape’, complete with what sounds like tearing paper, the word “sexy” and wind noises, is completely distracting and does nothing to add to the play. One particularly painful moment sees the lyrics of a song mimed. Another asks us to say “Lear” over and over again. These instances alone are bad enough, but mixed with the rest of the performance they render The Madness of King Lear one of the worst pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.