Testament at the Samuel Beckett Theatre

October 24, 2013

The body and soul and indeed the theatre itself were laid bare in She She Pop’s production of Testament, an, in equal terms, delightful and devastating deconstruction of King Lear starring the actual father’s of three of the four actresses. Adopting the classic text as a frame they explored the filial obligations that come with paternal debility by reenacting, reimposing and roasting the actions taken across the five acts of the classic play. Though often flippant, self-aware and goading, by using their actual patriarchs and documenting their devising process onstage, they utilise this cavalier approach to make their fathers face ugly facts about ageing and inheritance. The frank and indignant retorts of the fathers force them- and us- to uncomfortably follow suit.

“We are bosses here. We get to decide what goes on stage” says one of the actresses. So they proceed undermine their fathers position and function in the world enhanced by their removal of them from their comfort zone. Placed on the stage, designed to be part living room, part rehersal space, complete with three ‘dillapitated’ thrones, it is the ungrateful daughters who rule this roost. And as they probe the realities rarely faced and certainly never discussed by people of that age, the stress and discomfort of the fathers is captured on the individual video camreas facing them and projected into three frames that hang across the back wall.

The resulting friction is parlayed into stark confrontations and exitations, as the fathers strugle to understand or relate to Lear’s prediciment, using complicated scientific formulas to show where he went wrong or admitting hurtful but revalotory truths about the process they are being put through. “The exposure of body and soul is routineley celebrated by your generation” says one father, before anouncing his “shame and embaressment” at the type of work his daughter has produced.

It’s when they stick to their original notion- to explore modernday realities through the pages of King Lear- that this play really affects. The 100 Knights Lear insists on maintaining is brilliantly metaphorised by one of the daughters to represent her fathers beloved books which could not possibly fit in her apartment. It’s amusing and heartfelt and honest. And when one of the fathers heartbreakingly interjects that it is not the 100 knights but the 100 handicaps that his daughter will have to accommodate and another quantifies his usefulness through his power tools and Internet capabilities- that the true cruelty of the aging process strikes us. And contextualizes the ludicrous demands of a fictional monarch.

What made Testament such a joy to behold was how the company managed to be so facetious and light-hearted, entertaining and intelligent about matters of real consequence and still manage to truly affect, enlighten and disturb. They have not forgotten that underneath theatrical ingenuity must lie a truth that needs expressing, that all the laughs and artifice must honor. It was a theatrical etiquette lesson.


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