Last year they scooped up the winnings with their The Rehearsal and All That Fall. Unwieldy, wily and wonderful, Pan Pan are back with a piece about the walls of our own minds…
King Lear is notoriously a play that theatre-makers shy away from; the Abbey haven’t done a production of it since 1930. Why is that?
Well a lot of people say that it is better read than seen. There’s a general feeling that it’s hard to pull off. I think one of the main problems might be tone – I mean you’re watching King Lear and it’s such a dark piece that by the time the Fool dies there’s a feeling that it’s relentless. There’s a difficulty with keeping that level of tragedy in the traditional sense ‘going’, a difficulty of having the energy and the right choices to keep it together. But honestly it’s most people’s favourite play.
You have only two actors, Judith Roddy and Andrew Bennett, should we imagine that your version will focus on the relationship between Lear and Cordelia?
Ultimately it’s Lear, Cordelia and the Fool really. Traditionally the actor playing Cordelia would also have played the Fool. In this play there’s a duality – in one sense it’s Lear and Cordelia, but it’s also simply a man being visited by a woman. And it is set in Andrew’s flat, so it’s about a man living alone, the un-accommodated man, and that’s what Lear is all about. It’s about giving up all your possessions, giving up the kingdom and being old, perhaps looking at the idea of madness.
King Lear starts with Cordelia’s failure to communicate truly with Lear and that’s what kicks the plot off. Is that where we are here?
Yeh. Cordelia is a very interesting character. I’ve seen a few film versions, and there always seems to be a very annoying, very high-pitched but dull portrayal of Cordelia. But this idea of Cordelia’s truth and what that truth means is quite epic. And I think it can often be that the poetic interpretation, the multiplicitous interpretation of that ‘truth’ is lost. It is about that communication – the father and a favourite daughter, and the fact that she is the ‘most’ loved. And that’s a really interesting dramatic tension which isn’t easily explainable.
Can we presume that in typical Pan Pan style you’re going to deconstruct the text, and put it together again in order to create your own, alternative vision of King Lear?
For this show there is a script. We’re on our ninth draft of this play, even though it’s not exactly a play, but there’s a dramatic text, there’s action. We deconstruct nine scenes, and what you watch is these nine scenes. Some of them are silent, some have King Lear text, and some have new text. It’s looking at the atmosphere of King Lear in a way. And it’s just an honest reaction to the play, what inspires you. So you’re making a new work out of it, but it is King Lear, because the moment you do even two lines of the text it becomes King Lear, you feel all the power of those words. It’s all constructed out of artificial material, the text itself as much as the theatre, and it all overrides itself into one feeling. There’s a rhythm to it, a liquidity.
Where does the title come from?
Well it actually is Andrew’s flat on stage – his books, his CDs, his photograph of his grandfather – so that’s where it comes from. But it can be interpreted in different ways. I mean if you’re at home and you say you’re a philosopher, then you’re philosopher, you don’t have to publish books! Everyone is King Lear in his own home means that in that space, in your mind, in your house, within those walls, you are who you are. There’s also the fact that Lear does retreat to a hovel, and of course Beckett’s Endgame is inspired by that. We have the walls of our skull, and we have the walls of our house, so it explores that tension and claustrophobia and how you live the world privately and publicly.
From the 28th September until the 6th October at Smock Alley Theatre. Tickets.
Words: Roisin Agnew