Brave Lear – the tragedy and the monster

The opening show of the season of TNDMII is a dark, desolated Lear. What the spots of light are capable of tearing, whilst scheming the geometry of the events, is a depiction of life without the accessory. The fragmented illumination of tragedy.

A man is nothing if he does not have things

Shedding sombre words under an opaque, grey light, the bodies of this Lear drag themselves in a solemn suspension. The intensification to which they ascend retrieves archaic and theatrical situations from the oblivion.

Akin to a psychologic plot, the play touches on matters of sincerity and emotional realism. There is a cynicism that enables the daily life and another which, in contrast, poisons the social ethics. There lies a tension that we all dramatically go through over the course of our lives, but one that this king’s daughter declines for once, sacrificing the convention at the altar of true love.

Within the social normativity hides a grotesque animosity. Man is a social animal, not the opposite. Cordelia’s sisters, embodying this hypothesis, are icy effigies of an inhuman too inhuman. Through this plane, the play depicts the imponderability of the sensitive one who questions the public rules, the sociopolitical game. It remains to see if what Lear unconsciously wants is not actually to avoid love – just to ironically fall into its most dreadful consequences.

The subject is quite appropriate, in an era where the population is ageing and society is questions itself on the meaning of love and personal matters which, one day, will learn to redistribute. This way it is obliquely a show on economy: about goods (the affective ones as well), property (and also the morality), the access to resources (from the most symbolic to the lowest ones). That is where the naivety of Cordelia – inked as hubris – dismally gets acquainted with the realpolitik of human and social interrelationships. This is how the strong personality traits of the sisters Goneril and Regan help us to be aware of the mask that dissimulates and shapes violence. They are not caricatures.

Worth nothing

The play is about a wonderful stupidity, of those that dismantle the order. When the king abdicates to be king, but does not relinquish his power, his authority or his entourage, dementia is the image of irresponsibility. Two things can live together in a single one: the man and the monarch.

Then, as if the intent was to make inanity clearer, Cordelia basically disappears from the frame. The territorial axis Lear/Daughters (Goneril and Regan)/The Fool and Gloucers/Sons (Edgar and Edmund) are emphasized. These two groups give voice to a perplexity and are realistically confronted. Bruno conceals the voice of truth to throw against our face the undeniable other: under the yoke of the law and his power, we forget the redemptive potential of honour and affection.

Regarding the solution itself, Paula Só actually works well. An actress portraying Lear is not something new per se, but the main character materializes quite well the frailty and reverie of someone who commits a misjudgment in a wrong age. An object of our own piety, but also of our own disdain, in that faltering body, the voice, borderline comical, is what portrays the condition of an old man who does not raise anymore the interest of anyone.

One would expect a troupe more assertively orchestrated around Só. Perhaps the unfurling and articulation of the scenes would require more dynamic. But perhaps Bravo was only trying to capture, in a shale board, a diagram. Always with Lear and his bright mirror, the Fool, at the centre.

A contained fragment

In this show, the formality of movement (the actors speak face-to-face, with their arms emphatically saggy) has a tendency of shaking off the spectator’s attention. An excessive schematic of things poisons the expression of feelings, and also because the bodies, in a stance of great restraint, are wrapped in a shroud of darkness. One can feel the weight of the word bending the performative dynamics, something that any theatrical play should demand from itself in order to ensure that the emotional connection with the audience is not lost. Bottom line, without momentum, Shakespeare poured this way resembles a scenic and careful reading, with the difference being the quality costumes and an above-average production.

But the truth is that this Lear is effective when it comes to summing up the genius of Stratford-upon-Avon in order to update it, particularly in what concerns the textual de/reconstruction. A bit of blood and body is lost throughout the process, something that, as we know, Shakespeare did not refrain himself to include in his texts and shows. A desolated geometry is then acquired.

Reading the classic opus

The translation and adaptation of João Paulo Esteves da Silva are both careful. Subtle freedoms – ‘guys’, ‘dollars’ – are the mundane face of a complex labour: the poured text follows the line of the (decasyllabic verse), which establishes a unique rhythm, around the sense of musicality of the words.

Following the spirit of the translation, the show, with a brief length of 1h45, tries to circumvent the tradition to generate a more open field where the most attentive spectator can roam around – using what they know best or worst from the plot, what they understand the best or worst from the theatrical tradition itself. In these terms, Lear is more literature than theatre – Bravo even affirms that this is a scenic exhibition of a book.

Actually, having the chance to hear the King’s voice-over thoughts is an expedient that reinforces this statute of inner voice. The issue is if that this sort of decision is capable of creating a true… community of readers.

Let’s get cynical

Lear is about cynicism; two sisters do what they have to do, what is expected from them; they do not say what they feel and feel what they should; concurrently, Cordelia feels what she can’t and says what she shouldn’t; she experiences an individualized love to which law cannot do justice. The king, however, loses it.

As it happens in the classic fairy tale The Beauty and the Beast, in which two sisters despise their father and a younger one as well, which causes an affective meltdown, in Lear sincerity is the monster. In a fairy tale things get solved. In Lear, now, and taken this way to the stage, we are facing a work on black and nothing. The light comes from the naked architecture of words and the spots of white light which draw the crossings through the sombre, as if it was a dream in an Autumn evening.

Mário Caeiro is a lecturer, a curator and a researcher in the field of urban culture and public art. Curator of exhibitions and urban events since the nineties, teaches at ESAD.CR since 2004, where he’s a member of the research unit LIDA – Laboratório de Investigação em Design e Artes. PhD in Visual Arts and Intermedia by Universidade Politecnica de Valencia (Spain) in 2012, also graduated in Communication Design (ESBAL) and Comparative Literary Studies (FCSH-UNL), holding a Master in German Studies (FCSH-UNL) and a post-graduation in Urban Design (CPD/FBAUL/Universidade de Barcelona]. In 2014 published "Arte na Cidade – História Contemporânea" [Art in the City – Contemporary History].

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