Dylan O’Neill recalls what he thought of UCD Dramsoc’s production of King Lear. Photo credit: Alex Fagan.
The Shakespearean play has been a staple of Dramsoc for many years. This year, in line with the English Leaving Certificate exam, King Lear was performed in the Astra Hall. Secondary school students were invited to see Director Lisa Barry’s modern re-telling of this classic show. In her address to the audience, Barry stated that she “wanted to enhance the positive… in order to emphasise the darker and bleaker challenges the characters find themselves in.”
This iteration of the play, saw the characters in an upper class, urban setting. The set featured a high mantlepiece, upon which sat a portrait of every family, depending on the particular setting for each scene. During scene transitions the portrait was changed to allow the audience to follow the story. This was a unique and effective idea, which I would have liked to have seen further developed, especially in the second act. Polished wooden flooring was laid upon the different levels, to show the wealth of the characters as a collective. However this was difficult for audience members in the front rows to notice.
The use of contemporary music throughout the show really complimented the emotional weight of each scene. The simple lighting design gave a bright warm glow at the beginning of the performance, which transitioned into darker colours as the play went on. The use of spotlights on Edmund’s soliloquies cast large shadows, revealing the character’s immoral intentions.
The costume design further conveyed the power and elegance of the characters, and showed inspiration from Dramsoc’s previous performance of King Lear in 2016. Colour was a particularly important factor in costumes, especially for the ensemble, distinguishing them as the staff of different main characters. When Edgar’s changes clothes after fleeing his estate, however, he appears in kitchen porter trousers which fail to match his homeless status.
As the titular Lear, Ross O’Leary gave a fantastic performance, displaying a wide variety of emotions throughout the show. He managed to make the character incredibly sympathetic. When he played up the comedic side of the character the audience became particularly engaged. This highlighted even more the tragic story of an old man succumbing to illness, and losing his family.
Other members of the cast gave equally powerful performances in their roles. Most notably, Ali Dempsey McMahon as Gonreil, portrayed a strong female character akin to Lady Macbeth, whose intentions are clear from the outset. Shannon Ferber, as Regan, brilliantly contrasted McMahon’s character, starting off with a more nurturing delivery. However, this kind and gentle Regan falls away as she seizes her opportunity to acclaim more power. The two have a magnetic presence onstage, and the theme of familial loyalty is no better conveyed than by Aoife Delaney’s character Cordelia.
Graham Butler Breen and Emmet Farrell gave spectacular performances as brothers Edgar and Edmund, respectively, showing their years of theatre experience. With a strong and well-rounded secondary cast and ensemble consisting of Tadhg Buckley, Paul Harris, Peter Simpson, Donagh Ruane, Keith Feenan, Ellen Walters, Connor Dee, Rachel O’Sullivan and Jack McWalters, this production re-introduces Shakespeare to a younger audience and highlights themes that are all too prevalent in society today.
King Lear runs until the 19th January in Astra Hall.