Tāwhiri Warehouse: 11 Hutchinson Street, Newtown,, Wellington

14/03/2024 - 17/03/2024

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Written and Directed by Dan Colley (Ireland)

Co-produced by Mermaid Arts Centre and Riverbank Arts Centre.

Devastating stuff, deftly done…Colley is a theatre maker of remarkable imagination and insight
– The Stage

A moving and darkly comic interpretation of Shakespeare’s play told from the point of view of Joy, a person with dementia, who is living in an old memory of rehearsing King Lear.

Joy’s delicately maintained reality is upended by the arrival of her estranged son who, cast as Cordelia, must find a way to speak his mind from within the role he’s given.

Critically acclaimed Irish theatre maker Dan Colley’s visually stunning production uses puppetry, projection and live video to create the multiple layers of Joy’s world as past and present, fiction and reality, overlap and distort.

Lost Lear is a thought-provoking meditation on theatre, artifice and how to communicate across the chasms that divide us.

With a swathe of five-star reviews and award nominations, this is your opportunity to catch this “brilliantly conceived and executed” (Irish Examiner) show right here in Wellington.

This work contains strong language and adult themes.

There is a post-show talk on Friday 15 March.

Please note, unfortunately the NZSL interpreted session has been cancelled. You can view the full programme of NZSL interpreted events here.

Koia tēnei ko Lost Lear.

He tōwaitanga uriuri, hātakēhi anō hoki o te whakaari a Wiremu Rurutāo, e ai ki tā Joy i kite ai, he tangata mate wareware. E hoki ana ōna mahara ki ngā parakitihi mō te whakaari o King Lear, nā wai i pērā, ka Lost Lear kē.

He mea waihanga te whakaari nei e te kaitito whakaari rongonui o Airihi, a Dan Colley. Ka whakamahia ngā keretao, ngā hopunga ataata, me te kiriata mataora, e kitea ai te ao o Joy, tana anamata, tana ōnamata, te tūturu, me te paki.

Tāwhiri Warehouse
14 March 2024  7:30pm
15 March 2024  7:30pm
16 March 2024  1:30pm
16 March 2024  7:30pm
17 March 2024  4pm

Joy: Venetia Bowe
Conor: Peter Daly
Liam Manus: Halligan
Clodagh O'Farrell
Em Ormonde
COMPOSER: Daniel McAuley
SET DESIGN: Andrew Clancy
STAGE MANAGER: Evie McGuinness
CHIEF LX: Suzie Cummins
CHIEF AV: Laura Rainsford
LEAD IMAGE: Pato Cassinoni
PRODUCER: Matthew Smyth

Theatre ,

1hr 20min - no linterval

A brilliant premise is found wanting

Review by Max Rashbrooke 18th Mar 2024

One of the familiar frustrations for any critic – or audience member, for that matter – is the play where the problem isn’t what it contains but what it doesn’t.

Lost Lear, by Irish playwright Dan Colley, is based on a brilliant premise. Joy, an older Irish woman played by Venetia Bowe, is in a dementia care home where the senior staffer, Liam (Manus Halligan), is enabling her to relive her past career as a star Shakespearean actor. But her semi-estranged son, Conor (Peter Daly), objects to the repeated, erratic re-enactments of King Lear, seeking instead to talk to her about “real” things – notably, a cache of old letters he has found.

This tension is the play’s driving force, and allows Colley to draw clever parallels between performance and dementia. [More]


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Astonishingly insightful, moving and surprising

Review by John Smythe 15th Mar 2024

The first thing to praise is the creative ingenuity of Irish writer/director Dan Colley in even conceptualising this way of dramatising dementia, let alone bringing it to fruition with his ideal team of co-creatives.

The human story behind Lost Lear emerges as a slow reveal so I will try to avoid transgressing beyond what the publicity blurb tell us – which is that it is “A moving and darkly comic interpretation of Shakespeare’s play told from the point of view of Joy, a person with dementia, who is living in an old memory of rehearsing King Lear.”  

The preset treats us to a mesmerising image, projected on the stage-wide scrim, of a pensive actor tending to her make-up: rudimentary grey lines traced under her eyes and in the creases from her nose to mouth; pale powder applied with a soft makeup brush … Her expression is neutral apart from a momentary smiles that suggest she is in her happy place. This is Venetia Bowe becoming Joy who is preparing to play King Lear. Astute observers will note it is not a looped recording but is happening live, in a small pool of light centre-stage-left, and the camera – therefore the audience – is her mirror.

By way of a prologue, actor Manus Halligan, who plays Liam, runs us through key elements of the King Lear story, focusing of the king’s relationships with his daughters – the two hypocrites, Goneril and Regan, and the youngest, Cordelia, the apparent renegade whom he cuts off for failing to massage his ego and who turns out to be the honest one. We are also reminded that his deal with the older two is that they get equal parts of his kingdom in return for hosting him and his entourage of a hundred carousing knights for the remainder of his life.

And so to the ‘rehearsal room’ in the dementia wing of a rest home, dominated by a large arm chair-cum-throne. Liam facilitates the rehearsal of the opening scene, playing the daughters to Joy’s Lear as two silent caregivers – Clodagh O’Farrell and Em Ormonde – wrangle bits of costume and the odd prop. Joy is in her element, commanding the rehearsal, as well as Lear’s court, with the air of a greatly respected leading lady who demands the highest standards.

With Joy insisting on playing Cordelia as well as Lear, the king’s fury at his youngest daughter, whereby he disclaims all his paternal care, demeans her as his sometime daughter and banishes her, gets a thorough going over. Liam gets to play the Fool, including in the blasted heath scene, and the Doctor tending a lost and bewildered Lear at the French camp near Dover where he has been brought to Cordelia (who, as Queen of France, is leading an army intent on rescuing her father from her evil sisters).

Observing all this is a man called Connor, played by Peter Daly, who is also very bewildered. Liam introduces him to Joy as “the Understudy” and Joy is less than impressed by his timidity in reading Cordelia’s lines. It soon emerges that Connor is Joy’s estranged son. He grew up with his father, has been helping to clean up Joy’s home, has discovered a box of letters he wrote to her from the age of 15 – and now he wants to use them as a way of reconnecting with her.

Liam knows that the only way to connect with a dementia patient is through whatever memories the patient chooses to recall – so Connor, who is harbouring a deep-set anger, is obliged to role-play gentle Codelia in order to converse with his mother as Lear. Of course there is a resonant congruity in the scenes they enact. The directorial notes Joy gives Connor offer discomforting insights into what sort of mother she was and the device of ‘playing the intentions’ with paraphrased text allows Connor to express himself more honestly and fluently.

Most moving for me are the flashback scenes where Connor, as a young man, visits his mother, then later when he returns wanting her to meet his wife and children, as the onset of her dementia surfaces. In counterpoint to the dramatic use of sound, lighting and AV to enhance the turmoil both Lear and Joy are experiencing, these simply-played yet deeply-felt scenes have a profound impact.

If you’ve noticed the mention of puppetry in the publicity, you may be forgiven for wondering where that comes in. I’m not going to spill those beans; all I will say is that when comparing notes with friends post-show we all confessed to not realising for quite some time that one performer was actually a puppet.

Director Dan Colley is renowned for his devised ensemble work. It is to the credit of the entire team that even here, in a play that features a self-centred ‘star’ of the theatre, the ensemble work is exemplary. Abetted by the creative team, actors Venetia Bowe, Peter Daly, Manus Halligan, Clodagh O’Farrell, Em Ormonde, the Puppet and the Technical Operator in her down-stage-left booth, deliver a profoundly engaging 80 minutes.

The human quest for forgiveness and redemption has driven drama since it was invented, but Lost Lear revitalises it in an astonishingly insightful, moving and surprising way.


Dawn Sanders March 19th, 2024

An insightfully expressed alignment of Shakespeare's text and intent with the contortion of the effects of dementia and how to engage with illogical/logical, rational/irrational states of mind, John. Enhanced by the exceptional lighting and sound (including on the roof!), not to mention the puppetry, these new directions of a well-known script are alluringly examined and paralleled.

Roger King March 17th, 2024

John. I agree with your applauding the creativity in this production. BUT the vocal projection was sadly poor that around 25% of the lines were lost. Not helped by the Warehouse roof where the wind roared and further killed the audibility.....

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