Lost Lear - Reviewed by Tanya Piejus | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Lost Lear

Written by: Dan Colley, with the company, after Shakespeare

Directed by: Dan Colley

Tāwhiri Warehouse, 14th Mar 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Award-winning Irish theatre maker Dan Colley tells an innovative and powerful story of dealing with advanced dementia. Joy (Venetia Bowe) is stuck in the past of her career as an actor, constantly rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in which she played the lead. This ‘memory theme’ has been painstakingly worked out and supported by Liam (Manus Halligan) and his care home team (Clodagh O’Farrell and Em Ormonde). Into this carefully constructed world comes Joy’s son Conor (Peter Daly) who she sent away as a young boy and consequently harbours a lifetime of resentment towards his neglectful mother. Seeking some kind of apology or contrition he will never get, he must find his own path to forgiveness through joining the rehearsal as Cordelia and becoming part of Joy’s fractured reality.

Using projection onto two screens in front of and behind the main stage interwoven with live video feeds from a lightbox and another on the stage, plus a stunning use of paper craft and puppetry, we witness both Joy’s chaotic, distorted perspective and the grounded, day-to-day work of caring for a person with dementia. The skill of the actors and technicians is such that these two worlds blend and interchange seamlessly, so we always know where we are and sometimes see both at the same time.

Bowe gives a towering performance as Joy. She’s energetic and dictatorial as Lear, humorous as she jumps into other roles and plays dialogue by herself, heartbreaking as she struggles to communicate with Conor through the fog of her illness. Daly is strong too as the baffled son who can’t cope with the feelings welling up as he confronts his estranged mother and her altered mental state. Halligan is a wonderful foil for Joy, gleefully indulging her fantasy by playing Lear’s Fool, and gently encouraging Conor to take part.

Lost Lear is a brilliantly creative and thought-provoking inspection of dementia and the unconventional possibilities of human communication.

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