Imagine Shakespeare’s King Lear set in the desert. Imagine a father giving away his land to the two daughters who proclaim their love for him while the one who actually loves him the most is banished from his land.
The Shadow King grew out of a need to tell Indigenous contemporary experiences through classic Anglo stories. In the program, director Michael Kantor describes his ambition thus: “To tell a white man’s dreamtime story, one of the foundations of contemporary Western civilisation, but use it to question and probe contemporary Indigenous experience, particularly as it is now in Northern Australia.”
It is an ambitious aim and The Shadow King is an ambitious play.
Even though the storyline follows Shakespeare’s, the language is a mixture of the Bard’s words and various Indigenous languages. It works surprisingly well, especially if you are familiar with the story. The cast is brilliant, especially Tom E Lewis as the king and Jimi Bani as the crazy guy who sets out to ruin everyone’s lives and manages to do quite a good job of it. Bani is a well-loved television actor who most recently did a fantastic job portraying Eddie Mabo in Mabo.
The stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre has a revolving part that is used inventively to portray a truck with sharp headlights, a jail, and the outside of the house where the actors enter and exit through a door projected on a large screen. It’s a clever use of one thing for many different purposes. The same goes for the live band. Not only do they provide excellent music, they also set the tone for the play and interact in small ways with the actors.
One thing that didn’t work so well for us who sat in second row was the fact that we were much lower than the stage and thus couldn’t see that it was covered in red sand, but this is a minor gripe. The Shadow King is an original, thought-provoking and interesting work that deserves a wide audience.
The Shadow King is at Her Majesty’s Theatre until March 8.
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Click here for InDaily’s stories and reviews from the 2014 Adelaide Festival, including WOMADelaide and Adelaide Writers’ Week.
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