Lo helps hold up play

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 May, 1993, 12:00am

NORVID Jenkins Roos' set for the Hongkong Repertory Theatre production of King Lear is impressive, consisting of a circle of huge stones that suggests a pre-Christian period. Scene-changes are carried out smoothly and swiftly by some of the stones being moved mechanically around the circumference of the revolve.

There is only one member of the cast who does not seem dwarfed by the vast scale of the set, and that is Lo Koon-lan who plays Regan. From her first fawning utterances to Lear, her father, and her gloating at his rejection of Cordelia, to her final exit,this Regan was believably cunning and powerful. She also knew how exactly to attract Edmund, the man she fancied. Miss Lo should play Cleopatra some day.

So much for the good. Unfortunately, there are some inescapable facts about King Lear which emerge from the text itself. First of all, it is a pessimistic play. For example, Kent's question, ''Is this the promised end?'', carries much more meaning, givenits context in the whole play, than a simple reference to Lear carrying Cordelia's corpse: it is pessimistic to an apocalyptic degree. King Lear is a play of extremes: there is absurdity in the way in which Lear, at the beginning of the play, apportions his land; the barbaric blinding of Gloucester; the suffering in the storm and, of course, his madness.

Sadly, as with his previous attempts at Shakespeare, director Daniel Yang stays true to form by concentrating on the visual aspect of the production. He avoids any serious grappling with the content of what is, admittedly, Shakespeare's most difficult play. Yang prettifies and trivialises. There are jokes in the play but they are cruel ones; the cruellest being that played on Lear by the death of Cordelia while he still lived.

And, there are the witticisms of the Fool to enjoy. Pantomime gags seem very much out of place here. Is it really necessary that Edmund should play for a laugh with an exaggerated wince when his father, Gloucester, accidentally brushes against his wounded arm? But then, with the exception of Lo Koon-lan, amateurish exaggeration was a general characteristic of the cast. Ho Wai-lung's vocal and physical straining to achieve Lear's age and rage made it all too clear how unsuitable he is for this role. It is shameful that director Yang allows such shabby performances on a professional stage.