Saturday 4 May 2024

Stage: Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out

King Lear
presented by Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio
with Cecilia Yip, Lindzay Chan, Amanda Leung, Cassandra Tang, Peggy Chow, Ting-Kwan Lau, Ki-yan Ko, Corina Druc, Costinela Ungureanu
director Shu-wing Tang
sets and costumes Hon-wai Yuen • music Billy Ng
sound Anthony Yeung • lighting Tsz-yan Yeung
Riverside Studios, Hammersmith • 2-12.May.24

Strikingly visual and unnervingly visceral, this all-female performance piece reinterprets Shakespeare's masterpiece using movement, light, sound and fiercely expressive acting, but no words at all. It requires some knowledge of the play, although even that won't make everything clear. Instead, this is an impressionist piece that mixes comedy and drama with echoes of chilling horror, like a Lynchian fever dream about the corrupting effect of power in both families and politics.

Performances are remarkably controlled, as the actors wear emotions on their faces like expressive masks while moving in deliberate, choreographed interaction. In the demanding role as Lear, Cecilia Yip uses her full physicality to reveal compassion and yearning, as well as madness and fury. A monarch trying to find an heir to the kingdom, Lear's feelings move like a storm across the stage, pushing and pulling other characters while also having an impact on the sound and lighting around them. The sneering false love from eldest daughters Goneril and Regan (Lau and Chow) and their husbands (Ko and Ungureanu) is heartbreaking, as is the much more darkly intense connection with the younger Cordelia (Tang). Even those loyal to Lear, like Gloucester (Chan) and Kent (Leung), are unusually complex.

Each role requires an intensity that locks us in our seats, with a flurry of forceful glances, vicious attacks and desperately warm hugs. As Lear spirals around, trying to figure out who to trust, the situation itself pulls us in, and it doesn't really matter that we're not quite sure who's who. The staging is continually eye-catching, with an inventive use of costumes, sound, light and props that bring each moment to vivid life. This includes some startlingly violent sequences, with red laser pointers creating a scary counterpoint to the audible gunfire and swinging samurai sword. But the shadows visible in these characters' souls are what's most harrowing.

While Shakespeare's play can easily run to four hours, this 90-minute adaptation is remarkable for the way it conveys the underlying story using moods and intentionality. Facial expressions, gestures and movement create powerful feelings, while the audio and visual effects add atmosphere. So even if it's difficult to make clear sense of what we're seeing on-stage, or to decipher the symbolism that is cleverly woven into the simple but often dazzling sets and costumes, this is an exhilarating piece of physical theatre, performed by an astonishingly focussed cast.

For details,
photos by Tik Hang Cedric Yip • 3.May.24

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