Circus theme for Shakespeare’s King Lear

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Source: Massey University – Press Release/Statement:

Headline: Circus theme for Shakespeare’s King Lear

Ralph Johnson as King Lear with Massey student Kat Sowerby playing the Fool, at a Summer Shakespeare rehearsal.

Director Jaime Dorner with King Lear played by Ralph Johnson

The tragedy of King Lear gets a makeover as a freak show/circus in this year’s Summer Shakespeare, directed by Chilean-born dramatist and Massey University Visiting Artist Jaime Dörner.

Dörner says the freak show concept – with a bearded Goneril and two-headed Regan as Lear’s avaricious daughters – is designed to bring out the grotesque aspects of the characters’ natures. Their husbands, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, assume circus personas as a strongman and knife-thrower.

And King Lear, played by seasoned thespian and drama teacher Ralph Johnson, will take on a freakish appearance with the help of makeup and prosthetics.

King Lear starts on Thursday, 5 March at the Victoria Esplanade Gardens in Palmerston North. Costumes have all been designed and made for the show, and gypsy-flavoured circus music composed by musical director Suzy Hawes will add to the colourful, carnival extravaganza.

Dörner, who is directing a Summer Shakespeare production in Palmerston North for the second time as a Massey University Visiting Artist (the first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream four years ago), says his aim was to create a strong aesthetic that would underpin the “outrageous” motivations of the Lear family, and the drama of the story.

The plot revolves around the decision of the elderly King Lear to divide his kingdom and wealth between his three daughters in return for a declaration of their affections. Greed, betrayal, madness and grief ensue as the family self-destructs and Lear teeters towards the realisation of what genuine love means.

Dörner, who has lived in New Zealand for nine years including seven in Palmerston North, says he was not a huge fan of Shakespeare when he first encountered his plays at high school in Chile, where he read the texts in Spanish translation.

In New Zealand, he discovered a passion for the narratives and language of the Bard, with Hamlet his all-time favourite.

Massey University third-year Bachelor of Arts (English) student Kat Sowerby, who plays the Fool and is one of several Massey students involved in the production, says performing on stage is a dream come true. She saw Dörner’s A Midsummer Nights’ Dream and longed to be up on stage but was too shy to consider acting then.

During her degree she has taken every theatre paper taught by award-winning playwright and School of English and Media Studies lecturer Associate Professor Angie Farrow and says she has gained a lot more confidence along the way.

She has discovered her love of literature – especially New Zealand fiction – and is hoping to do postgraduate study. Enrolling in a BA was the best decision, she says, as it has opened up numerous areas of interest. “I love learning, and see myself as a life-long learner.”

Ms Sowerby is one of three Fools – all played by women – in Dörner’s King Lear.

Set designer Leda Farrow is also applying her studies to the stage. She has a Fine Arts degree with First Class Honours from the College of Creative Arts in Wellington. 

The production is Dörner’s final work as a director in Palmerston North. He is heading to Monash University in Melbourne to do a PhD on the cathartic and healing powers of theatre.

Dr Farrow says the Summer Shakespeare is very much a “town-gown production.” 

Massey is the major sponsor of Summer Shakespeare, which is also supported by the city’s Creative Communities and Eastern Central Trust. It was initiated 13 years ago and is produced annually by the School of English and Media Studies.

Show details:

Dates: March 5 ,6,7,12,13, and 14

Time: 7.30pm

Entry: Free

Where: Victoria Esplanade Gardens, Fitzherbert Avenue, Palmerston North

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues.
Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia’s FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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