Adelaide Festival Review: The Shadow King

Tom E Lewis in The Shadow King. Image by Daybreak Films

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear is steeped in Indigenous culture but very recognisable, with the story’s moral carried through quite plainly.

Tom E Lewis in The Shadow King. Image by Daybreak Films

Tom E Lewis in The Shadow King. Image by Daybreak Films

Presented by Adelaide Festival and Malthouse Theatre
Reviewed 5 March 2014

Shakespeare has been re-imagined in many ways: transferred to different times and cultures, dressed in a variety of disguises, but an Indigenous adaptation of King Lear must surely be a first. Lear’s tragic story is very recognisable in this production and it’s moral, or message, is carried through quite plainly.

Although this presentation has been steeped in Indigenous culture, from the Welcome to Country at the beginning to the frequent use of languages and imagery, they have chosen to retain the character names of the original. This strangely works. It helps with understanding the flow of the story and it helps with relating it to the culture, which is not familiar to all.

This is not a slick, well-polished production. It can’t be if it is truthfully going to portray the realities of the people it has focused on. However it does use many of the trimmings of theatre that we have come to expect of a big budget performance. The balance is good and I think director Michael Kantor has brought together the technology and the story well. The filmed footage has been well shot (by Natasha Gadd, Rhys Graham and Murry Lui), is relevant and not overused. The stage design, by Paul Jackson, David Miller and the director uses a multipurpose rotating piece of set, decorated when necessary by projections. It works extremely well to represent the outback settings, complemented by Kelly Ryall’s evocative sound design and live music provided by on stage musicians Selwyn Burns, Djakapurra Munyarryun and Bart Willoughby.

The performers seemed to vary in experience but carried the story well. Kamhi Jordan King as the Fool led us through the production, easing us into a tentative understanding of the way the story relates. Tom E Lewis as Lear equaled his strong performance. Jimi Bani gave a commanding performance as Edmund, making him believable and pertinent. As Edgar, Damion Hunter seemed less convincing. Gloucester was the character that seemed to not quite gel. Frances Djulbing’s strong accent hindered understanding, although this could also be related to the gender change of the character.

Jada Alberts and Natasha Wanganeen as Goneril and Reagan embodied all that Shakespeare wanted and at the same time, were definitely of this time, while Rarriwuy Hick was a well-played Cordelia, faithful to the Bard but with an indigenous voice. Overall the performances were good although the whole still felt a little rough around the edges, but well worth a look!

Reviewed by Fran Edwards

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote St, Adelaide
Season: 5 – 8 March 2014
Duration: 1hr 40 min
Tickets: $50.00 – $69.00
Bookings: Book through BASS online or phone 131 246


[adrotate banner="159"]
To Top