Queen Lear

17 July 2012 | 12:07 pm | Aleksia Barron

The latest play from the revered Melbourne Theatre Company, Queen Lear, strives for a level of epic brilliance and, regrettably, falls short. Under the direction of Rachel McDonald, the titular character of William Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear has undergone a gender reversal. While the consequences of this change are sometimes problematic, they are far from the production's biggest flaws.

The dramatic, even eerie opening sees Robyn Nevin as Queen Lear, clad in resplendent red, taking stock of her realm as shown by clever lighting on the spare, cavernous space. It's a beautiful vignette, with shades of Lars Von Trier's Land Of Opportunities films in the staging. It's also, sadly, the best moment in the entire play.

Nevin is predictably wonderful, playing her Lear as a cantankerous ageing lady eager to partake in revelry once her responsibilities have been relinquished. David Paterson's Edmund The Bastard is coolly charming, and he does well despite having to deliver monologues against the distraction of inexplicable props dangling from ceiling chains. Unfortunately, Alexandra Schepisi is not quite up to the task of playing Cordelia, and her fist-clenching interpretation of the character undoes the crucial opening scene – an error of direction and casting from which the play never quite recovers. What follows clearly wants to be great, but sadly never is.