Smock Alley Theatre
King Lear is given a postmodern makeover by Pan Pan Theatre in Everybody is King Lear in His Own Home. But Shakespeareüs text is just one of the fragments in director Gavin Quinn’s collage, which juxtaposes high and low cultural references with pointed self-consciousness. Lear’s soliloquies are intercut with muted scenes from SpongeBob SquarePants, fart jokes counterbalance the impending sense of tragedy, and the DVDs on the bookshelves, in case you are wondering, include Kung Fu Panda and Ken Loach’s Kes, as performer Judith Roddy deliberately illuminates.
Pan Pan has long been a purveyor of the deconstructed classic, most recently Hamlet, in the endlessly layered cleverness of The Rehearsal: Playing the Dane. However, Everybody is King Lear… is closer to their rock-opera Oedipus Loves You, blending dead-pan delivery of new dramatic scenes with key speeches from the source inspiration. Indeed, even designer Aedin Cosgrove’s clinical apartment set (a reconstruction of actor Andrew Bennettüs real flat) recalls the 2006 production, as does Jimmy Eadie’s grungy soundtrack, which segues into a storm that brings the blasted heath into the homestead during the production’s climax.
If the thrust of Oedipus Loves You can be reduced to the theme of unhappy families, the stripping back of King Lear to the father-daughter dynamic also suggests a focus on similar domestic terrain.
A full-bearded, half-clothed Bennett brings the full force of Lear’s madness into being in the opening moments of the production. Rocking back and forth on his filthy runnered feet, he presents a familiar physical portrait of contemporary madness. Roddy, meanwhile, is Lear’s daughter and carer, both the dutiful Cordelia and loyal Fool. Slipping between roles, she changes Bennett’s nappy and joins him in delirium. If there is “reason in madness”, so there is madness in reason.
Anyone looking for a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s tragedy will be frustrated by Pan Pan’s deliberately oblique approach. More significantly, however, the most effective scenes in Everybody is King Lear… are those where the actors play it straight: the rupture of their relationship – rendered here in the penultimate scene – is genuinely moving. It is a tantalising suggestion of a more faithful King Lear that would elicit empathy and pathos, as well as a cold admiration for the company’s intellectual rigor.
– Sara Keating