Who knew that William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy King Lear could actually be funny? Viewers of the N.C. State University Center Stage production of Nearly Lear found this out as they listened to the tragedy through the eyes of court jester, Norris (actually Noreen in drag), played to perfection by the gifted Susanna Hamnett. As Norris/Noreen, Hamnett relates how she came to work for King Lear and how she felt as she watched his tragic descent into madness. Although the play does touch on much of the sadness of the story, it is really the story of Noreen herself that is most captivating.
Hamnett presents Noreen as incredibly relatable and likeable; she is bursting with pride at being able to tell her story to the world, but still working through it herself. Clad in flowing garb and outfitted with funky hair, Hamnett’s Noreen is both approachable and frighteningly vulnerable. She makes several forays into the audience, and truly helps them to get into the story, even going so far as to climb through the audience and mist viewers with water to help them “feel the storm.” She is much more distant, however, as she relates her own personal pain, creating a truly complex character.
The simple set, designed by Lindsay Anne Black, consists of three “mobile curtains.” Hamnett moves freely in and around these pieces, smoothly turning them into several different props. An ending film, created by David Parker, with Hamnett’s husband and daughter playing King Lear and a very young Cordelia, is also projected onto the pieces and serves to add closure to the show’s bittersweet end.
Fast paced and exciting to watch, Nearly Lear can expected to go far. Although the writing is solid and intriguing, it is really Hamnett who is the real powerhouse of the play. She portrays at least six different characters effortlessly, never missing a beat or ceasing to explode with seemingly boundless energy. Her performance and the spot-on directorial skills of Edith Tankus create a character and a performance that viewers will not soon forget.
Sadly, the show completed its all-too-short two-day run on Sunday, Sept. 26th. However, it is about to begin a full tour in the U.K., followed by a January 2011 run at the New Victory Theater in New York City and an April 2011 run at Australia’s Sydney Opera House. To learn more about the play and to purchase tickets for a future performance, visit Hamnett’s website at http://www.susannahamnett.com/.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 24th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/09/susanna-hamnetts-performance-as-norris-the-fool-in-nearly-lear-is-a-comic-tour-de-force/. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts & Entertainment reviews online, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.susannahamnett.com/nearly-lear-video/.
Susanna Hamnett: http://www.susannahamnett.com/ (official website) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0358851/ (Internet Movie Database).
King Lear: (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaKLF.html (1623 First Folio Edition, courtesy University of Virginia) and http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobLear.html (1866 Globe Edition, courtesy UVa).
Shakespeare Resources: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/index.html (University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).