Dance on the Fringe is not just the province of youth, as evidenced by this stripped-down, gender-bending take on Shakespeare from the Irish choreographer John Scott. The centrepiece of his hour-long work is Valda Setterfield, the British-born, New York postmodern dance veteran and actress, who is 83 next month and cast in the title role.
As a wizened female king, Setterfield is incapable of dishonesty or excess. Initially she’s alone on a stage backed by a curtain festooned with signage of words and phrases used in the play. Her movement is sparse, but every contained gesture has purpose and carries the weight of thought. Lear’s daughters are played by three male dancers young enough to be Setterfield’s grandchildren: Kevin Coquelard (Cordelia), Ryan O’Neill (Regan) and Mufutau Yusuf (Goneril). They start out trying to please and suck up to their parent, hopping and jumping and showing off like trick ponies.
So far, so good, but things take a bad turn when the men speak segments of Shakespeare’s text — or, more accurately, scream and shout it. The cast also step outside the play, recognising it as such and discussing the act and art of performance. The humour, self-referential or not, is largely gauche and the supporting performers annoying.
At least the storm — rendered as a blizzard of paper — is effective, as is the nuanced pathos that Setterfield generates as she heads towards her dotage. The tenderness with which Coquelard’s Cordelia treats her is some compensation for his embarrassingly wretched behaviour earlier. Shakespeare gradually falls by the wayside as this Lear becomes an uneasy study of decline and caring. Still, it’s worth seeing for Setterfield, who is grand and dignified throughout.