King Lear, Hong Kong Players, McAulay Studio, Arts Centre until Sept 26 It would be foolish to expect too many laughs from King Lear. This is, after all, a play about the ingratitude of children, that includes murder, adultery, torture and betrayal. But Roberto Conte, who directed the Hong Kong Players' production of the tragedy that opened at the Arts Centre on Tuesday night, has decided on an interpretation so unremittingly black that for much of the evening, that colour is all one sees.
His Lear, played competently by experienced local performer David Booth, is a grumpy, humourless old man.
His daughters wear black, Goneril and Regan in kinky leather bodices, and Cordelia in velour. His sons-in-law wear black, as do his prospective sons-in-law, his friend the Duke of Gloucester, and both Gloucester's sons.
The set - a chair and a table - is black. The stage is black. The colour scheme is not mere fashion preference, it represents Conte's decision to play the entire cast as monsters.
Unfortunately, this seems to have been understood as 'spit your lines out as fast as possible'. For some of the less experienced cast members the best lines are buried in the invective. The exceptions are Sally Dellow as an icy Regan, who refuses to lose her temper, and Alistair Scott, as her husband Cornwell.
The first half was slow to take off, but in the second we saw more thoughtful moments from the cast, especially from Evan G Blank as Gloucester, who improved greatly after being blinded. Faberge Quagmire, as Edgar, also obviously felt more comfortable once he could put his clothes back on.
There were a few first-night teething troubles, and some of the cues were so late that most of the audience actually mistook some embarrassed late-comers for a new scene.
Most of the cast could have done with a little help in learning how to express themselves physically, as well as verbally. Too often the cast members peered at one another across the stage, hands pinned to their sides.
But overall, Conte's vision for this play was wisely to keep things simple which meant he avoided most of the usual pitfalls of amateur productions of Shakespeare.