“On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object"
William Shakespeare. Henry V
I first saw Lear in 1988, it was the first Shakespeare I had seen onstage. As a shy student I snuck into the Playhouse green room and watched Gale Edwards and Mary Moore’s design presentation for The State Theatre’s production of King Lear starring John Gaden. Awestruck and inspired by their production, it is with great reverence, excitement and a little trepidation that I have taken on the proverbial passing of the torch and attempted to fill some very big shoes.
This is the first time I have designed a Shakespearean play. The sheer scale of Lear and the unlimited scope for interpretation is immense. It is rare that a designer is given a play that could potentially be set anywhere. It was, however the intention of Adam Cook and myself not to layer this production too heavily with imposed references to an exact time or place.
Simplicity seemed to me the most effective way to focus this production on its beautiful spoken language. It was a process of simplifying and stripping it back. The set itself became a version of Shakespeare’s basic wooden O. It is a metaphorical space that serves the many locations the play requires without imposing lengthy changes of scenery. It is intended to be an epic yet unobtrusive construction that allows the characters to take command of an unimpeded centre stage.
A modern setting seemed to me the least intrusive and most interesting visual solution to costuming Lear. Taking elements as required from the last one hundred years of Western history. Evoking a close but alternative reality and placing the characters in a world, which is instantly recognisable, accessible and understandable. Our setting suggests a familiarity that can sometimes be frightening, confronting and occasionally, humorous.
The events of Lear take us from a glittering palace of power to the most wretched fields of desolation and despair. Granville Barker in his preface to King Lear refers to “this massive fortress of pride which calls itself Lear”. I hope in my set design to have evoked this seemingly monolithic fortress, then like the King himself and the world that is shattered in its division, expose its frailties and its truth.
Victoria Lamb 2009