The King Lear Project: A Trilogy

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The King Lear Project: A Trilogy Presented by the Singapore Arts Festival at the Drama Centre Theatre, Singapore. June 11, 2008. Directed by Ho Tzuy Nyen. With Remish Panicker (King Lear), K. Rajagopal (King Lear, Gloucester), Gerald Chew (King Lear, Edgar), Crispian Chan (Fool), Oon Shu An (Cordelia), Brandon Fernandez (Kent, Cornwall), and others.

The King Lear Project: A Trilogy is a series of plays that dramatize the processes of staging Shakespeare's Lear. The first play opened on June 11 in conjunction with the annual 2008 Singapore Arts Festival at the Drama Centre Theatre. Headed by local filmmaker and director Ho Tzu Nyen, and producer Fran Borgia, the project performed the difficulties and complexities of staging what many critics believe to be Shakespeare's most "unstageable" tragedy through three components of a fictional Lear production: an audition (Lear Enters), a rehearsal (Dover Cliff--The Conditions of Representation), and a post-show discussion (The Lear Universe). Since the plays were performed over three consecutive evenings, this review is by no means exhaustive, but attempts to highlight the distinguishing traits of each play to give a unified sense of the overall production.

The opening set of Lear Enters was minimal and modeled after a typical audition scene. The actor-cameraman took the stage with about a dozen actor-stagehands, who busied themselves with white hollow-cube structures that were rearranged conveniently according to the instructions of the crew, director Kaylene Tan, and her assistant Elizabeth Tan. A large screen in the background magnified the expressions of those speaking in the foreground. The first candidate to audition for the role of Lear was Remesh Panicker, and like the other hopeful Leafs that followed, he was given full creative control over his audition. There was, however, one restriction: he must choose to audition as 1) god-Lear, 2) madman-Lear, or 3) Everyman-Lear. Panicker chose the first, and with his court in place for the audition, god-Lear announced his "darker purpose." Panicker portrayed an especially convincing depiction of god-Lear, and his gestures and speeches conveyed a distinct courtly presence. Lear faithfully followed the script until Kent (Brandon Fernadez) was dismissed for defending Cordelia (Oon Shu An), at which point Panicker was asked to explain why he chose to play god-Lear. Every man, he claims, have "a little divinity in them."

When the audition was officially over, Kaylene Tan took the spotlight centre stage; she asked: "What do you think?" Initially, her question appeared to be directed at the audience, but she was in fact addressing her producer, Paul Rae, who was seated in the stalls with the audience a few rows away from the stage, and visible only by a spray of light that illuminated him in an otherwise dark theatre. More interestingly, he was practically invisible to the members of the audience in the balcony; they could only hear his voice, soft-spoken, soothing, yet keen in his opposition to Panicker's interpretation of Lear. Rae played the role of producer, but his mindful, philosophical responses to Tan and his position in the stalls marked him as the mouthpiece of the scholarly community and the audience. He paid no attention to Panicker's acting skills; instead, he voiced only his criticism of the idea of a god-Lear. Lear, he contended, cannot simply be reduced to a godlike figure. He is too complex, too fragile, and too weak to command the stage as his exclusive and sole privilege. After Rae offered his insights, the lights went out, and the second audition began; this cycle--audition, justification, and judgment--was repeated throughout Lear Enters.

Madman-Lear, played by K. Rajagopal, wore only a floor-length loincloth. He entered prancing, twirling, howling, and laughing madly with his royal procession. His choice prop was a long black rope, attached around his protruding belly on one end, and held like a leash by his royal fool (Crispian Chan) on the other. …