Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: Lost Lear
Em Ormonde, Venetia Bowe, Clodagh O'Farrell and Manus Halligan in Lost Lear: Image uncredited
Similarity. There's lots of it about. As a wise man once observed, DTF 2022 seems to be the festival with showers of pages littering the stage. Dinner With Groucho has it, Joyce's Women has it, and now Dan Colley's Lost Lear can't seem to resist a fluttering paper storm. Then there's Venetia Bowe. A cameo as an institutionalised woman in Joyce's Women, she goes full fledged nursing home in Lost Lear. This time as ageing actress, Joy, suffering dementia, whose diva qualities make Bette Davis look positively polite. Bowe's image projected at times onto a makeshift screen, her face hovering, Oz like, before the audience. Sharing another similarity with Joyce's Women by giving a devastating central performance. Another standout in what is rapidly becoming a festival of standout performances.
If Colley's tale repeats and folds over itself, digging ever deeper, its premise is simple. The soft spoken Liam, a marvellous Manus Halligan, is piloting a treatment for people with dementia which involves recreating a moment in their lives then living it with them. Allowing them to be present as themselves, or at least as some remembered, idealised self. For Joy, that's during a rehearsal of King Lear when she was young. Yet building a world that caters to a patient's needs doesn't necessarily cater to the needs of their family. Peter Daly terrific as the bewildered Conor, Joy's son, looking for connection, closure, some word or sign from his unaffectionate mother. If Daly is ballast to Bowe's extremes, he bravely underscores it with such pained need he almost becomes dislikable. Their deteriorating relationship hitting you with the emotional equivalent of blunt force trauma. Often played out behind a translucent veil, part hospital curtain, part clouds of the mind.
Venetia Bowe, Em Ormonde and Clodagh O'Farrell in Lost Lear: Image uncredited
When Colley's Collapsing Horse Theatre Company folded in 2019, the loss was keenly felt. The reasons plain as day in this thunderously terrific production. Theatrically, Colley engages with utter simplicity to create the most profoundly complex theatre. Halligan might deliver King Lear for Dummies at the outset, but under Colley's orchestration Lear serves up riches beyond Shakespeare's dreams that speak to Joy's dementia. A puppet, an overhead projector with paper cut-outs or cotton wool and the world recedes into the distance, storms crack open the heavens, ageing is made manifest. Mostly, it's about that performance. Bowe simply unforgettable as a rousing Lear. Even better as an arrogant actor divided against herself, reliving her life from several decades before. Bowe producing such a prodigious performance even the storms bow their heads when she thunders.
When the thing getting in the way is the way itself, the forgotten cost of dementia is writ large and proves harrowing. Loss standing right in front of you, there yet absent. Colley's Lost Lear is a theatrical tour de force that bravely visits painful places to tenderly illuminate them. Reminding you that you can loose all memory and sense of who you are, but you're still there.
Lost Lear by Dan Colley, presented by Dan Colley, Riverbank Arts Centre, and Mermaid Arts Centre, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2022 at Project Arts Centre till October 8.
For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2022