King Lear by Olivier Py: One of the most beautiful tributes to Shakespeare

David Pauget, French exchange student at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, USA)
Avignon, Cour d’Honneur du Palais des Papes – July 11th 2015

“Humiliated fathers wander while their children plot. Between wars and self-delusions, all are busy digging their own graves and rushing towards oblivion.” For a long time, chaos was weak, sleeping in everyone’s soul. But it is waking up with King Lear’s insane game –splitting his kingdom between his three daughters and offering the largest share to the one expressing the most her love for him. All characters become flies caught in a spider’s web when the balance of the world is disrupted.

The play is conducted at breathtaking pace and with amazing energy but let us clarify that hardly anything is removed from the original text. Having done his own translation, Olivier Py manages to produce speed while remaining exceptionally faithful to Shakespeare. He fully understands the political project behind Shakespeare’s language as he refuses to level it up to make it universal through different levels of language.

King Lear – magnificently played by Philippe Girard – sets off a blast which causes all kinds of evils. In response to her sisters’ hypocritical words, graceful Cordelia – played by dazzling dancer Laura Ruiz Tamayo – becomes a heroine who chooses to remain silent when confronted with perverted speech. Olivier Py’s production highlights the transformation of a world to another when humanistic values fall apart, as the frightening scene of Gloucester’s enucleation suggests.

Facing the wind and the sky of the immense Court with minimum sound system, the actors display superhuman energy in a perpetual fight with speech. Pierre-André Weitz displays remarkable command of the art of scenography which results from clever choices to unleash the violence contained in the text. The stage turns into a muddy heath then into a mass grave matching King Lear’s descent into hell. One will surely remember the scene where he tears the planks off the stage as he finally understands that his daughter was the one who had paid the best tribute to speech. The kingdom is ultimately stormed by masked terrorists, and long red stripes fall from the sky as to implore the wind to stop raging.

« Is this the promised end? – Or image of that horror? » When King Lear realizes that Regan and Goneril have never loved her, a feeling of treason overwhelms him and he runs out into a storm. At the end, Lear hugs Cordelia as if his life depended on her; suddenly, something happens, and light shines brighter in our hearts, but it is too late. Lear groans in pain and fear, suddenly afraid to die alone. The storm rages. As the pieces come together as in a puzzle, all characters cut themselves, blood pouring from their hands.
The play is obviously a complete success.

David Pauget

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