Tag Archives: Amy Scott-Smith

King Lear

6 Dec

King Lear is a brilliant play. And much discussed.

I’ve always been intrigued by Simone Weil’s reading. She saw a tussle between power and honesty, and concluded they were mutually exclusive. The opening sequence certainly prepares us for this view. Regan and Goneril sing their father’s praises in exchange for property. Cordelia is discreet, and is punished for it.

Orwell has a famous essay about Shakespeare and Tolstoy. He reminds us that Tolstoy didn’t especially warm to Shakespeare and had a particular dislike for this play. The story, it would seem, was too close to the bone for the great Russian writer.

I, too, find the story confronting. It’s the tragedy of the great moral gesture.

The play begins with Lear’s grand renunciation. The problem is he can’t maintain the grandness. Leof Kingsford-Smith’s portrayal is wonderfully and heartrendingly accurate. There’s a pomposity to the early Lear. We don’t dislike Lear for it – it’s common enough in older men. In fact, it awakens our pity. As the Fool later says, aren’t we supposed to grow wise before we grow old? Lear hasn’t. Will we?

But like us all, Lear doesn’t understand himself. Having made the grand gesture he wants gratitude, and is devastated when he doesn’t receive it. Who hasn’t been in the same situation? You are kind, and then you’re not acknowledged for that kindness, and so you become bitter. If you choose kindness (or any other moral gesture) perhaps it’s best to stick with it all the way.  (A lonely path, I suspect. But to what vistas might it lead?)


Director Richard Hilliar’s production is moving and engaging. Kingsford-Smith’s marvelous Lear is amply supported by some strong performances. Amy Scott-Smith presents an admirably icy Regan. This is nicely balanced by Hailey McQueen’s Goneril; a beautiful portrait of a small soul, troubled by inklings of self knowledge, but lacking the courage to confront them. Danielle Baynes as Cordelia is dignity and honesty personified.

And, in the world of the play, there’s no place for a character like Cordelia.

Many eighteenth century productions rewrote the final scenes. In their original form they were deemed too painful.

Or were they just too honest?

Is virtue really so little rewarded in this world?

Who knows? For most of us, it’s too hard to stick to, to find out.

And that’s the tragedy.

Veronica Kaye


King Lear

at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, as part of the Sydney Shakespeare Festival with Measure for Measure

until 21 Dec

for program dates http://www.sitco.net.au/


16 Jun

To see ancient Greek drama is a blessing.

To see it done well is a gift from the gods.

I saw director Richard Hilliar’s production of Sophocles’ Electra on the last night of its run. I wished I had seen it earlier, because I would’ve gone to see it again.

Firstly, because it was a superb production. Hilliar’s use of the stage is brilliant. The entire cast is wonderful, and Amy Scott-Smith as Electra is just extraordinary.*

Secondly, because well produced classical theatre is a window into another world.

I know many people will disagree with this attitude. They will argue eternal relevance. They will argue that the passions explored in ancient Greek drama are universal.

I doubt the existence of such universals. I’m not sure who would ever be in the position to judge that such feelings were so ubiquitous.

Sophocles wrote in a particular time and place for a particular audience. If he is appreciated now it is because of excellent productions such as this, and because he continues to speak to particular people.

For me, the ancient Greeks are too fierce. And they care too much about family.

Sure, I’m being facetious, but also I’m not.

I suspect some things have been added to the philosophical ‘tool box’ since they lived. And I do mean in terms of ‘ways of seeing’, rather than the obvious material benefits that make our lives longer, safer, and dare I say, more middle class than theirs.

Let me give a single example. It’s a ridiculous historical generalization and I don’t mean to defend it, but here it is anyway:  I suspect something happened on the fields of Assisi that altered human sensibility, or at least added another way of looking at the world to the many already available. When Francis sang to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and lived a life of what can only be described as extreme gentleness, something else was added to the ‘tool box’.

And this ‘adding’, or at least rediscovering, has happened over and over again. (Though, again as a single undefended example, the early 20th century suffragettes might seriously question whether any ‘rediscovering’ was going on as they fought for representation.)

My point, long winded though I have been, is that Sophocles’ vision of life is particular, and limited. As must everyone’s be.

That’s my universal.

Productions like this are magnificent because they make us realise, or remember, that there can be this ‘way of seeing’ too.

I suspect this is the greatest gift theatre can give.

Veronica Kaye

Electra by Sophocles

at TAP Gallery til 15 June


* For those new to my blog, it’s probably worth pointing out that I write what I call responses, rather than reviews.