Antoinette Kellermann, Neels van Jaarsveld and Anna-Mart van der Merwe in Koningin Lear. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht
Antoinette Kellermann, Neels van Jaarsveld and Anna-Mart van der Merwe in Koningin Lear. Pictures: Nardus Engelbrecht

KONINGIN LEAR review. Afrikaans drama written by Tom Lanoye. Translated by Antjie Krog. Directed by Marthinus Basson. Set and lighting by Marthinus Basson, with Antoinette Kellerman, André Roothman, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Rolanda Marais, Neels van Jaarsveld, Wilhelm van der Walt, Edwin van der Walt and Matthew Stuurman. At The Baxter Theatre until 16 November 2019.

THERESA SMITH reviews

Antoinette Kellerman delivers a commanding performance as the Lear character in the award-winning Afrikaans tragedy Koningin Lear.

She is ably supported by a stellar cast who give as good as they get and by the end of it, which like any good Shakespearean tragedy is a snot en trane affair, it’s not just the actors who need a handkerchief.

The ensemble piece takes its cue from Shakespeare’s King Lear though and this is the Tom Lanoye adaptation, translated by Antjie Krog into rapid-fire, meaty Afrikaans that is both lyrical and gut-punching.

You can’t help but laugh at the occasional swearword which helps to leaven the growing sense of doom, stopping the audience from being totally depressed by the maelstrom of nastiness and tragedy. Instead you are swept up in the high-stakes drama of business decisions and shake your head at the adult children’s casual dismissal of their mother’s legacy.

Antoinette Kellermann and Neels van Jaarsveld in Koningin Lear. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht
Antoinette Kellermann and Neels van Jaarsveld

An ever-dimming moral compass

Some bits of the dialogue, especially Kellerman’s Elizabeth character’s, is lifted straight out of the original, but most of it is new, reflecting as it does a different time and reality for the characters. Still, this remains a story of how parents can mess up their children and the destructive power of oodles of money that is not linked to accountability in a world where integrity and loyalty are no longer the cornerstones of business.

Elizabeth Lear is a businesswoman who has built up an empire and now, in her old age, divides it up between her three sons. When the youngest, Corné (Edwin van der Walt) refuses to sing for his supper, she cut him off, and he sets off for the Far East to make his own fortune.

A mesmerising, potent performance

The two older sons quickly show their true colours, fobbing their mother off on each other as dementia sets in. Egged on by their wives, they eventually reject her. Neels van Jaarsveld has a great sense of timing which really comes through in this play, and his eldest son character’s sneaky suspicion that he isn’t as clever as he thinks is neatly shown up to be true by his wife, Anna Mart van der Merwe – as seemingly vapid, but actual venal.

Middle son, played by Wilhelm van der Walt, turns out to be the real shark, while his wife (Rolanda Marais) is an emotionally fragile creature who decides too late that she’s not meant for this cutthroat business of being rich.

Andre Roodtman plays lawyer/long-time friend Kent, who serves as an ever-dimming moral compass, while newcomer Matthew Stuurman takes on the “fool” role, as Elizabeth’s caretaker – the one person who wants nothing from her.

Elizabeth’s loss of her faculties and physical deterioration is beautifully portrayed by Kellerman who starts off as the hardnosed corporate type, segues into bored retiree who doesn’t know how to handle the loss of power, slips into growing confusion up till it is time to curse at the storm and eventually settles on grieving mother.

Kellerman gets to throw every emotion and the kitchen sink at this role, but she never hams it up – whether that is good directing from Marthinus Basson or her own ability doesn’t matter, it all comes together in a mesmerisingly powerful performance.

The way she uses her voice and her physicality to show us both the character’s deterioration and glimpses of the originally magnetic person, is a masterclass in how it should be done.

What: Koningin Lear review
Where, when: Baxter Theatre, until 16 November 2019
Tickets: Webtickets
WS