Shakespeare tragedy reimagined through gestures and music

"Songs of Lear," an experimental musical production presented by The Song of the Goat Theatre group, will be staged at Shanghai Oriental Art Center on October 12 and 13.

“Songs of Lear,” an experimental musical production presented by The Song of the Goat Theatre group, will be staged at Shanghai Oriental Art Center on October 12 and 13.

The award-winning work approached Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” in a creative way, allowing audiences to witness an intimate artistic process wherein dramatized songs take on the form of an oratorio.

As a non-linear story, “Songs of Lear” reveals the world of energies and rhythms that govern the tragedy. The theater group focused on selecting the key scenes of “King Lear,” using them as inspiration for spinning a story through words, gestures and music.

The visual structures of movement and a language of gestures that is integrated with poetry comes together with music, and the music brings out characters, relationships and events in the tragic story.

Each of the 12 songs in the performance are original compositions created by Polish multi-instrumentalist Maciej Rychly and Corsican composer Jean-Claude Acquaviv. The dramaturgy was directed by Song of the Goat Theatre’s Grzegorz Bral.

According to a review by “The New York Times,” the performance is structured as a series of vignettes that Bral calls “paintings” though they rely entirely on singing, much of it a cappella. 

The dominant character is Cordelia (King Lear’s youngest daughter). An especially striking scene imagines her pain and anger as a child. In another, she warns her father of his impending doom, backed by a violin and a mournful harmonium.

The show also featured Indian harmonium and African instrument Kora.

“Songs of Lear” has received enthusiastic reviews, as well as the Fringe First and the Herald Archangel Awards at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

It has also been well received by Chinese audiences at the 2015 Wuzhen Theatre Festival in neighboring Zhejiang Province, as well as when it was performed at Shanghai Concert Hall in 2017.

The Song of the Goat Theatre group was founded in Poland’s Wroclaw by Grzegorz Bral and Anna Zubrzycka in 1996. It has been hailed as the most exciting, innovative new avant-garde theater in Poland.

Song of the Goat Diatramb was their first production, which alluded to old songs from the Greek regions of Epiros, Albania and Romania, and to mournful Greek lamentations. The plot was drawn from Euripides’ Bacchus. 

From this mix, the group tried to summon up the spirit of ancient audiences.

Performance info

Date: October 12-13, 7:15pm

Tickets: 80-680 yuan

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center

Address: 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong New Area

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