‘Cordelia’s’ haunting springboard

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[box]THEATRE
“Cordelia”
Created by Chenoeh Miller, The Street Theatre, season closes November 5.
Reviewed by Helen Musa [/box]

Noa Rotem in the title role of Cordelia.

LET’S get this straight – “Cordelia” is not a reworking of “King Lear”. It is rather, as Polish director Jerzy Grotowski used to say, a case of using a classic as the “springboard” for the imagination.

Yes, there is a king, though we never see him. Yes, there are three daughters and we know their names. Goneril, (Erika Field) is consumed with hatred and ambition. Regan (Peta Ward), whose name her father can hardly remember, is gentler, yet riven with guilt. And Cordelia (Noa Rotem), father’s pet, is ripped from her dying mother’s womb, but is stronger than the other two.

It’s a dysfunctional family in which there is more than a hint of parental abuse, but this is not a soap opera. Instead, Chenoeh Miller delivers a haunting production that runs just over one hour.

How does Miller harness the cacophony of her non-sequential plot? By calling in the big guns – a cast expert in vocal and physical theatre, including a brilliant singer in Janine Watson and a fine clown/fool in Rowan Davie.

Designer Imogen Keen creates intriguing neo-Baroque costumes and lighting designer Hartley TA Kemp, adds macabre insinuation, while allowing everyone their place in the spotlight.

Miller’s fertile imagination produces a script that interleaves childish nursery rhymes with a witty narrative from the King of France, played with rhetorical flair by Adam Hadley, whose beautifully resonant voice adds an Elizabethan flourish.

You won’t always understand what’s going on. Jealousy and longing are not shown in conventional acting, but rather through energetic jumping and dancing to 1980s music, which conveys the same idea.

As the play nears its climax, you can sense the audience quietening. This is going to be the Shakespearean bit. But it’s not. Instead of answering her father’s puerile question: “Tell me how you love me” with the simple word “nothing”, Cordelia disrobes the characters so that they are divested of their outward trappings.

At this moment it becomes pure Shakespeare because, as Cordelia accuses her sisters in “King Lear”: “I know you, what you are.”

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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