ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

13/06/2023 - 09/07/2023

Production Details

Written by William Shakespeare
Co-director - Michael Hurst
Co-director - Benjamin Henson

Auckland Theatre Company

When power and privilege are put to the test

Michael Hurst leads a large, star-studded cast in Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR. Hurst takes the crown in one of the most iconic stories and ultimate tragedy’s Shakespeare ever told.

Tender, violent, moving, humbling, King Lear navigates the complexities and contradictions of human nature like no other piece of storytelling.

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”

Having built an empire, the ageing Lear is poised to abdicate his crown. When he challenges his children to compete for his land, his favourite refuses to play the game. Civilisation is thrust to the edge of chaos and Lear, broken by his own vanity, will be forced to confront who he is for the very first time.

Tender, violent, moving, humbling, King Lear navigates the complexities and contradictions of human nature like no other piece of storytelling. At a time when we are all reconsidering the role of monarchy, Shakespeare’s great meditation on succession, family and country couldn’t be more potent.

Michael Hurst, one of Aotearoa’s greatest exponents of Shakespeare, takes the crown. Renowned for his boldly theatrical contemporary productions, this iconic artist will be joined by a large ensemble cast and a celebrated design team. Using the full majesty of the ASB Waterfront Theatre, they’ll bring to life this poetic and powerful masterpiece. Expect everything.

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”

“It is a story of its time but also of all times. You only have to look at the politics in the world today to see Lear-type figures, secure in their power, making the wrong decisions while surrounded by those that would flatter them in the pursuit of their own advancement.” – London Theatre 1

“Michael Hurst has been preparing for his Lear for decades. It will be a blazing performance by one of our greats in the role of a lifetime. Boldly adapting the ASB Waterfront Theatre for traverse staging, this will be one for the ages.” – Jonathan Bielski

ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland.
13 June – 9 July 2-23
Tuem Wed, Thu: 7pm
Fri, Sat: 8pm
Sun: 4pm

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Set Design - John Verryt
Costume Design - Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Design - Vanda Karolczak
Sound Design - John Gibson
Vocal Coach - Kirstie O'Sullivan

Fasitua Amosa - Albany
Andi Crown - Goneril
Adam Burrell - Oswald
Uhyoung Choi - Burgundy
Joe Dekkers Reihana - Edgar
Michael Hurst - King Lear
Jessie Lawrence - Reagan
Shadon Meredith - Cornwall
Colin McColl - France
Cameron Rhodes - Gloucester
Beatriz Romily - Edmund
Hanah Tayeb - Cordelia
Hester Ullyart - The Fool
Jennifer Ward-Lealand -Kent

Theatre ,

2.5hrs (Approx)

Michael Hurst at the height of his power in thundering production 

Review by Jonny Mahon-Heap 16th Jun 2023

… That’s all to say that Lear looms large, still, over our culture and our politics. Not so reassuring when you consider it’s a play about worlds in disorder – the natural and civil in total disarray.

How, then, does a cast make good on Shakespeare’s promise of filial carnage, psychosexual revenge plots, and awesome tempests, when our own storms rage outside?

Well, you need a maestro, and you need a production overflowing with talent – and co-directors Benjamin Kilby-Henson and Michael Hurst, who also stars in the title row, deliver. Hurst is undoubtedly at the height of his power here. He makes Lear’s eventual crack-up come with the gift of self-knowledge. [More]


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The tragedy emerges from a comedy-horror facade that becomes an engrossing psychological and cathartic journey

Review by Genevieve McClean 16th Jun 2023

Michael Hurst and Benjamin Kilby-Henson’s King Lear seems at first to be a spectacular comedy-horror of the privileged rich. A reflective one and a familiar one. While you may benefit by familiarizing yourself again with the play before seeing it, you should know that this is a slightly recontextualized adaptation.

The directors have constructed a vehicle of the play from something of both Lear’s rage and his humility. By which I mean Lear is literally purged through the momentum of the happenings of the play by a busy cast who are given space to shine and fully own their characters with complexity and depth. And the play summons us to bear witness to the central character of a man experiencing a repudiation of his total authority and what then seems like the hedonistically fuelled life-crisis of a modern man. This is a man we may feel that we know quite well, rather than the displaced royal inheritor of the throne of England (think for a moment of King Charles driven to distraction on the misty heath). Hurst plays a Lear who is convincingly recognizable to our contemporary world in Auckland, New Zealand.  The effect is unsettling.

On John Verryt’s stark and cool courtroom-slick modernist stage, Lear rampages and storms with blustering outbursts and Hurst skilfully manages the art of that interface between Lear’s inner storm and that which keeps him in check. This is the artform; it’s very entertaining. He almost seems a shrinking figure on the stage in between the towering cast, at his maddest in the forest of his family, running from one to the other, while in the storm he softens to a poet’s vantage.

Seeing his army culled and refused entry at his daughter’s houses, Hurst’s Lear manifests some attributes of a badly behaved businessman, showing exhibitionist tendencies in losing his trousers and ending up soaking wet in a cityscape with his fool, almost as a kind of anti-social tantrum that you might expect of the overspill of Tory hedonism into the streets.

Hester Ullyart maintains a perfect gatekeeper of otherworldly wisdom and floozie turned cabaret singer, as his admonishing sage. Also, her singing is just great. The fool’s bright costume is a play on the antithesis of the store of wisdom and power within, by comparison to the King and the other costumes which are more equally distributed with subtle touches for character. Colour is rare and poignant.

When Regan and Goneril first appear together like young barristers engorged with the power of their first corporate employer, or hyenas I imagine, on the chase, they seem to enhance the nature of the word gargantuan as they emerge from the blank stage.

We live in an age don’t we whereby the whims of the few may influence vast portions of the populace? In a time where leaders of the people are subjects to the folly of the people?

“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.”

Where we understand better as audience to the news of the world, in knowing about algorithms and echo-chambers, do we also understand a version of the ultimate fate of nepotism and cronyism? The inward-feeding short-armed hierarchy of mistrust and dislike that occurs in the competitive market?

Let me return to the beginning of the play. The set design steeply presents audience members against the back of the stage, and framed by the stage, it’s reminiscent to me of paintings of a Jacobean courtroom stuffed for an exciting hearing. The play hosts the cast in a small, contained space. Lear appears quietly in the shadow at one end. But the auditorium is less intimate than the Globe theatre – the actors are amplified and throw their voices out to the audience in each direction, creating a sometimes-filmic effect of a disembodied voice during transitions. It also creates an effect of the scenes being driven from each side like fervent aeroplanes or relentlessly industrious models on a runway.

There’s a necessary display of the show’s workings by the cast as ensemble that hold the epic in a Brechtian pattern, and performances oscillate between the intimate and the didactic. There is pathos sitting in the nuances of the script, especially those that are moments of naturalism, but you cannot therefore see naturalism in the whole.

The sound design by John Gibson cements the idea that unsettling is the theme and goal of the overall production design. In keeping, industrial cityscapes are evoked effectively with the lighting, and as the rain and storm overtake the timbre, an expressionist Metropolis-like foreboding provides suspense.

Edmund is played brilliantly by Beatriz Romilly, while Edmund’s brother Edgar, played by Joe Dekkers-Reihana, is a considered and edgy character and a surprising one. Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays Kent, Lear’s loyal servant and his transformed self, with deceptive ease. Cameron Rhodes plays an excellently funny Gloucester you can’t help but like, and Fasitua Amosa and Shadon Meredith are statuesque dukes, like strategic figurines in the turmoil.

As the suitors, Colin McColl lends a colloquial version of a stately air to France, and Uhyoung Choi offers an amusingly bemused Burgundy. Hannah Tayeb brings a true young spirit to the role of Cordelia, as an innocent, ruthlessly dismissed, and Adam Burrell’s Oswald is a clever depiction of a servant on a hotplate.

It’s Goneril and Regen though, played respectively by Andi Crown and Jessie Lawrence, as the wolfish big sisters that give wings to this ensemble as an unearthly chariot to carry the King to his demise. Lawrence lights the stage with her gourmandizing energy and Crown lurks, equally as voracious.  One line in the play about Cordelia is spoken by Lear, that she speaks ‘softly as women should’, but by contrast the older sisters together with Edmund are a furious example of womanhood as a triad of ‘unnatural hags’ who weave an ensnaring web of deceit to defy Lear and attack Gloucester.

King Lear is a tragedy, we know that, but the relatable modern elements and the comedic qualities enhance the ghoulishness with which we observe acts of violence and other intensities. Interspersed in turn are sweetness and clarity. The famous scenes of the madness of the two older men elicit here a tender exchange between the crowd and the stage. The scene of redemption and forgiveness between Lear and Cordelia is made more beautiful in relief of the storm of terrors around it. Tears fall in the audience: that kind of ebb of emotions that like a tide pulls on solutions from a place where solutions are not.

The tragedy emerges from a comedy-horror facade that becomes an engrossing psychological and cathartic journey. I feel that different seats will offer different experiences of the show and that different audiences will see different shows depending on the night, simply because the nuances of the storyline will strengthen and settle and shift, and it’s so vast.

The cast are exultant after the opening night. The union of older experienced practitioners and new performers and practitioners is being celebrated. Briefly I see Michael Hurst being swept into a throng of well-wishers and I look twice to see if he is actually being lifted up by the crowd around him. “Well done!” I tell him. “Thank you!” he throws over his shoulder and is gone from sight.

Over 10,000 seats have already been spoken for by an audience for King Lear. The season has been extended until July 9th

Notes on the play King Lear in response to the court of King James the first.

Everything about Lear as the original play, is an astonishing dis-harmonic onslaught, of a design to question morality and display the atrocity that is incurred when the natural balance of nature’s equilibrium is disturbed. In a seventeenth century mindset, it’s important to understand that in that time and place, being a king was understood as being very close to God. As marriage was considered sacrosanct, being born illegitimate, i.e., outside of wedlock, meant a lot more than just not being an heir to the wealth of the family, it was to be outside of God’s grace in the great Chain of Being. Illegitimacy was considered a corrosive threat therefore to the stability of royal rule.

King James, when Lear was written, was new to the throne, but he arrived with a very well-known reputation having been King of Scotland for thirty-six years. During his reign in Scotland, he had written the ‘Demonologie’, which expounds upon the methods that the devil might, should God allow it, use to affect women, and troubled men, thus endorsing the hangings and burnings of dissidents or the victims of local gossip – acts which we now refer to as the witch-hunts. Some years later he had the bible translated into English for the very first time, and wrote the True Law of Free Monarchies, expounding on the divine rights of Kings.

If you met him as a man and heard his story, you might feel sorry for James. His mother had been held captive since his birth, and decades later publicly beheaded (apparently her head continued to twitch for 15 minutes after coming off). His father had been blown up shortly after he was born. James was educated a Calvinist and had himself had been abducted and controlled for some years. He then escaped and ruled according to his own sense of moral righteousness. He married but lost four of his seven children, and over time he developed a fondness for drinking as well as morality, and inveigled himself into the favours of Queen Elizabeth, his cousin once removed who had ordered his mother’s execution.

For some months, no theatres were allowed to operate while the Queen was taken ill. When she died, a message was sent by horse in haste to Scotland to inform James that he was now king of the United Kingdom of Scotland and England. Ten days later, the players at the Globe were contacted and told that the new King would sponsor the theatre himself as patron, and they would be known as The King’s Players.

Driven like horses themselves, the players were busy performing every night and expected to make new material. King Lear is the second play of the new King’s court and a challenging one, calling up concepts around James’s unification of his kingdom, and political and religious division, and at the same time flattering James with an illustration of his Divine Right of Kings, as a depiction of the calamity that ensues should God, through a king, or a man, allow the ‘Devel’ to provide a “rod of correction” that establishes whatever re-arrangement is required to put the divinity back in place, and restore natural order.

That is where four hundred years of departure in analysis of the play begins, and still there is no end in sight that gives us complete answers as to the intentions of the play The History of King Lear. Completed in the same year as the ‘Gun Powder Plot’ was discovered and foiled, Lear was first performed for His Majesty King James the First of England on the day after Christmas, in 1606, just four weeks before Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were hanged.


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