Fringe Dance

Lear

Dance Base

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Mary Brennan

five stars

THERE IS no pretence on the part of Irish choreographer John Scott,that his company’s take on Lear is Shakespeare to the letter. It does, however, cut to the bone of what that tragedy is about: old age, encroaching infirmity and unsettling shifts in the parent/child relationship. The needy demands on time, patience and caring become the stuff of role reversal with Lear – played with poignant gravitas by 83-year-old Valda Setterfield – no longer dispensing largesse from a throne, but frail and vulnerable in the wheelchair that was already lurking under the royal purple throw.

Some fragments of Shakespeare’s text are spoken in this gender-reversed interpretation by Goneril (Mufutau Yusuf), Regan (Ryan O’Neill) and Cordelia (Kevin Coquelard). Rather the words are screeched and yowled, painfully devoid of poetry but par for the characterisation that sees all three bounding round the stage like boisterous wolf cubs hungry for flesh. That feeding frenzy morphs into the raging storm that scatters Lear’s wits like the reams of paper flung around by the three male dancers, all playing the Fool. Surely Cordelia will look after her lovingly indulgent father? Ahhh, the savage cruelty of it: Lear, as in the original, outlives all three children. Setterfield, who inhabits the role with wonderfully nuanced intelligence and expressive physicality, finally wanders off-stage, her hands fluttering as if trying to find an exit from all that has been lost. As with the prospect of our society being unable to care for its own elderly, rendered sorely dependent by dementia, this Lear by John Scott Dance (Ireland) is harrowingly cogent, made all the more compelling by Setterfield’s defining presence.