Written between 1603 and 1606 and published in quarto in 1608, The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters, was later revised as The Tragedy of King Lear (1623). The plot revolves around Lear, who descends into madness after giving his estate away to two of his three daughters based on their flattery. This results in tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological pre-Roman Celtic king.
King Lear has been widely adapted for the stage and motion pictures, and the role of Lear has been coveted and played by many of the world's most accomplished actors. King Lear has been regularly staged in Australia since the early colonial period, and has also been adapted into various other forms and gnres, including musicals, pantomimes and burlesques.
Billed as a 'grand scenical, historical, fictional, parodical, balygalical, musical match-if-you-can-ical, comical Christmas Pantomime' (Sydney Morning Herald 26 December 1854, p.1), Harlequin King Blear is also described as 'a rich burlesque on Shakespeare's King Lear, whereby the king seeks to relieve himself of the cares of state in favour of what he seems to think the more agreeable delights of drinking potations deep' (Age 27 Dec. 1855, p.5). Although the 1854 and 1855 productions involved mostly different companies (with the exception of Frank Belfield as Bloatero), the similar synopses and characters (published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Argus) indicate that they are related (at least in the dramatic action). New comic business and songs are believed to have been added to the latter production.
According to the Age's plot synopsis, King Blear decides to abdicate, and announces that he will divide his kingdom and possessions between his three daughters (Scragina, Fatima, and Lightstep) if they will each promise to provide him with comfort in his declining years. Meanwhile, Blear is also persuaded by his right-hand man Demon Goggle to promise his youngest and finest daughter (Lightstep) in wedlock to a Falstaffian lothario, Bloatero, much to the dismay of the damsel and her true knight, Edward. The lovers are, however, given support by Queen Graceful, who promises not only her protection but also her best assistance to thwart the schemes of Goggle. The Sydney production included Sydney's George Street Market, the exterior of Woolloomooloo Gaol, Castlereagh Street, the Newtown races, Homebush Nursery Grounds, and the Prince of Wales Restaurant in Pitt Street. The Melbourne production had these scenes changed to local settings.
The songs incorporated into the Sydney production included 'Gin a Fairy Meet a Fairy, Comin' Through the Sky' (fairy chorus), and 'Bonny Done' (Queen Graceful and ladies). The musical aspects of the revival were described in the Age as 'creditable.' They included 'new and beautiful songs', two of these being 'Hot Coddlins' and 'Tippetywitchet.' The production also involved several dance sequences.
'Bringing together the country's finest creative talents including Tom E. Lewis (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) and Jimi Bani (Mabo) this majestic and physical reworking of Shakespeare's King Lear employs the timeless tragedy to speak to the history and current circumstances of Indigenous Australia. Working across cultures and generations, The Shadow King is unmissable theatre of a scale and significance to match the land upon which it is made.'
Source: www.malthousetheatre.com.au (Sighted 12/09/2012).