Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

14/05/2016 - 18/06/2016

Production Details

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Michael Hurst

Circa Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary with a brand new production of Shakespeare’s stunning tragedy King Lear.  Acclaimed Shakespearean director Michael Hurst takes the helm while the title role is played by one of New Zealand’s theatre legends, Ray Henwood.

King Lear cuts to the heart of the human condition, traversing the raw landscape of passion, sorrow, cruelty, love and redemption. An ageing king, mistaking false praise for love, makes a terrible decision that destroys his family and plunges his kingdom into chaos.

Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, Hurst, renowned for his compelling interpretations, throws a unique lens over the story, describing it as “a lean and muscular play that demands the utmost of its actors.”

“I am interested in the performance, the acting. The heart of King Lear is the language, and the heart of that language is the way it sounds, words assembled such that they disclose deep human truths and emotions. This is the actors’ job in Shakespeare. To speak the language with truth, connection and commitment. I am excited to be working at Circa on this special production in this special year.”

There will be no hiding, no tricks, just high-octane acting in a timeless landscape of despair. Howl! Howl! Howl! 

With an all-star cast this remarkable production is a must see! 

Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Sat 14 May – Sat 18 June
Preview 13 May
Book here  

Ray Henwood:  King Lear
Ken Blackburn:  Gloucester
Carmel McGlone:  Goneril
Claire Waldron:  Regan
Neenah Dekkers-Reihana:  Cordelia
Gavin Rutherford:  Lear’s Fool
Stephen Papps:  Kent
Andrew Paterson:  Edgar
Guy Langford:  Edmund
Todd Rippon:  Albany
Peter Hambleton:  Cornwall
Nick Dunbar:  Oswald

With: Alex Halstead, Callum McSorley, Charlotte Cook, Connor McNabb, Hailey Ibold, Jamie Wallace-Thexton, Jordan Murphy, Kelly Willis-Pine, Monica Reid, Morgan Hopkins, Olivia Fox and Samantha Geraghty

Director: Michael Hurst
Set and Lighting: Andrew Foster
Costumes: Gillie Coxill
Music and Sound: Jason Smith
Producer: Carolyn Henwood

Theatre ,

From nothing, whole worlds

Review by Peter Mechen 31st May 2016

Shakespeare got his “King Lear” story from an early chronicler, Holinshed, (who had in turn got it from an earlier source). As well as this there had been an anonymous stage adaptation of the story “doing the rounds” and performed in London about ten years before Shakespeare’s play appeared. Both of these told the story of the semi-legendary Leir of Britain and his three daughters Gonorilla/Gonerill, Regan/Ragan and Cordeilla/Cordella. In both Holinshed’s version and the anonymous play, there is a happy ending, with the aged king reinstated on the British throne by his daughter Cordelia’s arrival with her husband the King of France’s troops to defeat the armies of the traitorous dukes of Albany and Cornwall.

Shakespeare’s dramatisation, with its bleaker denouement to the story held the stage until the Puritans closed down all the theatres in 1642. With the Restoration theatres were reopened, but a new generation of playgoers found the uncompromising tragedy of the Bard’s Lear too much to stomach – this encouraged the Poet Laureate of the age Nahum Tate to rewrite the play along the ”happy ending” lines of the earlier versions. [More]  


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Strong stellar performances

Review by Ewen Coleman 16th May 2016

Regarded as one of the greatest in the canon of Shakespearean plays, King Lear, currently playing at Circa Theatre, is a monumental work of epic proportions, operatic almost, and in fact is two stories rolled into one; that of Lear, King of England who misjudges the loyalties of his two daughters and suffers inextricably for this and The Duke of Gloucester who like Lear, is made an outcast by the actions of his sons. 

It literally canvasses every aspect of the human condition and emotion such as love, loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness, morality, religion and even the whole meaning of life and contains numerous scenes of violence, murder and mayhem. [More


Renee Taylor May 16th, 2016

Kia ora Ewen, were there no women on stage?  It seems so judging by your review.  

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Compelling energy and understanding

Review by Patrick Davies 16th May 2016

Circa’s King Lear is a stupendous production. We enter into an atmospheric place with subdued lighting and haze. Andrew Foster’s vast set rears up in front of us in expectation of this vast play: King Lear is one of ‘the biggies’ of the canon.

Two huge perpendicular walls, set at an angle to are us, are drab green and distressed. One has a large ballroom-like window and one door, the other a large picture of the King’s visage which dominates us like an Orwellian big brother. On either side of the picture are three distressed hanging working lights that are bulbs surrounded by the upended wire frames of bedside lamps.

The walls have an almost wet sheen as though they drip and the floor is of second hand wood. There’s an earthiness here. The walls size feel claustrophobic and sit like two sides of the Dover Cliffs. Opposite, at the end of the other wall by the door, are written the letters “NIHIL”.

We are in a meeting place with chairs and a table preset. It’s like a church hall taken over by the army and neglected. The wide open playing area affords little room to hide. 

The cast gather for the well-known first scene in which King Lear expresses his “darker purpose” of divesting his kingdom into the hands of the next generation so that Cornwall and Albany may avoid hostilities. The actors are beautifully costumed by Gillie Coxill in 1940s garb. The men in suits and uniform look smart, attractive and all business; the supporting actors are ‘women of the workforce’ and men in suits and later military uniforms, and Lear’s daughters resplendent in the dress of the day.

Goneril (Carmel McGlone) is all silk and smiles with red hair; Regan (Claire Waldron) is the wide-eyed blonde with a simple, yet elegant, dress and fur; Cordelia (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana), the dutiful daughter, is in uniform with a simple black bob. I’m put in mind of the then Princess Elizabeth as the uniformed mechanic of WW2. Immediately these ladies are defined for us. In a room full of men they are separate not only for their position but their gender. In Shakespeare’s day such active, powerful women were a rarity and here, in 1940, began the rise of women in the workplace so these costumes are a beacon of colour on a drab stage.

The programme comes with a synopsis of the play, which I feel is a little disappointing – surely you trust your production to tell a story – but simply put this is a play about fathers who put their faith in the wrong places. Lear’s story of betrayal by his two eldest daughters is paralleled by Gloucester’s betrayal by his youngest son. We are introduced, as is Kent, to Edmund and then Lear introduces us to his daughters and we are away.

The company – and with the large range of age and experience it does feel like a company in older sense – are uniformly strong. They understand the language and are at ease with telling us their stories. Each character is well rounded, confidently portrayed, making each part of the whole their own.

Michael Hurst’s casting also reinforces the many parallels between these stories, I’ve already commented on the differences between the daughters. So too Edgar (Andrew Patterson) and Gloucester (Ken Blackburn) share black hair while Edmund (Guy Langford) clearly sticks out as the blonde bastard. This is used obversely with Kent (Stephen Papps), the loyal servant to Lear, being matched physically to Oswald (Nick Dunbar). Both tall and lean as whippets, they could be brothers from another mother.

We are able to follow the action clearly even though the differing places are not generally made explicit. There are also some judicious edits that keep the story propelling forward (I must admit I’ve never really been a fan of Cordelia’s interjections in scene one). Hurst allows the words to do their work, though sometimes these are hard to make out, and there are some chunks of paraphrasing. The unforgiving hard surfaces of the set means that anything spoken at volume and speed, unless it is brilliantly articulated, is lost to us. And sometimes accents and the soundscape have the same effect: Kent’s regional accent sometimes gets in the way and Gloucester’s words in the tent with the storm outside are inaudible.

I am centre and in the third row. Talking with others at interval and after I find I am not the only one straining to hear. Poor Tom’s speech in the storm is unintelligible unfortunately, one punter quipping “well he’s mad so it doesn’t matter,” with another punter chiming in with “if Shakespeare wanted unintelligible gibberish he would have written unintelligible gibberish.” Fair point.

Certainly the second half fares better, either because the actors have worked it out or because there is less sound to compete with. Some judicious level-setting from the designer and operator would be worth the work. This is not to say that Jason Smith’s sound design is obtrusive in any way; there is always that shake down on opening night when, suddenly, the audience’s clothes soak up voices, but with the experience onstage I’d expect better. Smith supports and creates atmosphere brilliantly, effective both because of its quality and prudent use.

Ray Henwood in the titular role plays Lear as a man with some self-knowledge of his own decline. He clasps his heart and asks not to be mad as if these maladies were already on his mind and that this has forced his abdication. His is a measured Lear in a simple but elegant suit with a cane, a nod to his age.

His railing against his daughters flies out of him with petulance and with virulence. His daughters’ reactions are all within their own characters and yet each time he explodes he is full of spite and malice. As Goneril says, “As you are old and reverend, should be wise” – with his age should come wisdom. This is followed by some of the most unkind things said to a daughter. While Goneril and Regan are certainly after their own advancement, you can see they will not take these vicious tantrums and you agree with them.

This measured-ness does mean that after the storm it seems he’s more happy, having let go, rather than actually mad. Henwood’s at his best here: playful and light. However during the storm all the dialogue is spoken as if within a room rather than outside, weakening the storm’s effect. His is a simple death, effecting yes, but with words like “Howl” and, during the last scene, his reticence to emotion makes him feel still walled off rather than having embraced himself fully. 

Gavin Rutherford’s Fool is played as an intellectual simpleton; his off the wall dialogue comes from the realm of madness itself. It is quite affecting in that here is a madness that is not self-induced but with it comes some clarity. He is heart breaking in the storm when trying to give cover to Lear.

However I really don’t understand the Fool becoming a soldier for the ‘enemy’. His facial birthmark clearly seen through the balaclava, he is the soldier who will hang Cordelia and then be slain by Lear. It destroys the emotional work he has done before.

As I’ve said the company is uniformly strong but this production is owned by the villains. While Neenah Dekkers-Reihana’s Cordelia is a delight in its simplicity, which, as the lynchpin of honour, makes her final entrance in Lear’s arms such an emotional climax, both McGlone and Waldron relish their sexy climb to power, and Langford is extraordinary. 

McGlone’s heated ice-queen dominates the stage, her husband, and the comedy with a wink and a dagger. I would not like to come up against her machinations. Like Thelma and Louise, she’d rather kill herself than let that fall to anyone else.

Waldron, as Regan, is astounding. Perfectly the middle daughter, she starts like Princess Anne with an almost ‘horsey’ voice and develops into a joyous unfettered sadist to rival Bond’s Xenia Onatopp. Her thrill during the eye gouging scene is a piece of perfectly pitched acting: so bold an offer that might easily topple but her commitment and presence makes it squeamishly believable.

Guy Langford has it all. The villain is always given some of the best lines and Langford delivers on every one of them. From comedy to falsehood, to strength, to the devil he delivers his words trippingly on the tongue with shade and light and such relish.

Hurst’s direction is spectacular. The story is clear, the characters well developed, each carrying a clear backstory. He has created a wonderful production that brings all creatives onto the same page and delivers with gusto. The musty, bleak world is balanced by some very fine comedy – I think a revelation for some in the audience. The choreography keeps the relationships between the characters fresh and alive, our eye moving and roving or being brought to a particular point for emphasis. With the designers he creates the many and various locations with ease. 

I’m not a fan of the storm which consists of a fantastic, if low volume, soundscape and the actors wandering in and out of a square patch of rain/static. Is this a throwback to the Big Brother image at the beginning? In a set of perpendicular lines this act of nature is strikingly square as well.

That quibble aside, I adore the whole of the play. It is done with energy, understanding and is compelling. Clearly this is an important event in the Wellington theatrical calendar and I hope it is supported as it should be. I will definitely be going back for a further viewing, if only to stand up for bastards.  


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