Review by Cicely Binford
A little re-branding goes a long way. Riptide, the youth theatre company out of Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, has had a little revamp in the last year, with Artistic Director Kathryn Osborne bringing a bit of edginess to town. The company has performed an updated version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which they’ve re-branded as Queen Leah.
A cast of 10 young performers faces off at either end of MPAC’s black box theatre, the Fishtrap. They’re seated in rows in front of suspended chains, while suspended over center stage is a giant crown covered in graffiti, designed by Sally Phipps. The performers are clad in black with gold accents, and the atmosphere is tense, stark, no-nonsense. A blackout signals the beginning, and after lights up, we are introduced to the show’s trusty narrator, Cordelia (Courtney Brown). She breaks everything down for us, but she also takes part in the action.
She has two sisters, Goneril (Zoe Sutton) and Regan (Sophie Herbert) who are competing to get the biggest piece of the pie, Queen Leah’s queendom. Problem is, Queen Leah is having a little trouble connecting with reality, and in Riptide’s version, she’s been split in three. She’s played by 3 actors (led by Ruby Liddelow) who periodically speak in chorus and often behave erratically, doing things like balancing glass goblets on their upper lip.
Edmund the Illegitimate (Tristen Pateman) is out to get his brother Edgar (Brent Shields), and turns their father against him. Manipulations, mutilations and murders ensue in this very abridged version of Shakespeare’s text. Osborne even goes as far as to update much of the language, though there is a considerable bit of the original script that stays intact. Osborne makes strong directorial decisions throughout the piece, which no doubt has given the cast plenty of opportunity to get a feel for the ways in which the ‘rules’ of theatre can be broken and played with. She comes up with unique and fun ways to solve problems, such as using silly string as a stand-in for various kinds of physical violence. Sounds silly, but it actually works outstandingly well.
Queen Leah is a very abridged and youthful version of the original, fostering both a reverence for and a rejection of Shakespeare’s authority. That the genders were swapped, and that all the characters were played by young people who weren’t wearing grey wigs or old-age makeup, presented no difficulties at all in this iteration of King Lear, in that the resulting show was a keen experiment for both the director and performers. Though the language can be challenging, the cast handled it well, and found a whole lot of humour in this traditionally tragic story. Bolstered by some very fine design work by Joe Lui on jarring, tense lighting paired with fantastic industrial-inspired sound design by Brett Smith, Queen Leah is a short, sharp rework by Riptide, and hopefully a signal of more good things to come.