Lear into madness

FOREBODING SET: Hamlyn Heights actress Rose Musselwhite plays Cordelia in Lear at Old Geelong Gaol.

By Luke Voogt

Fifteen women step into the “eerie“ Geelong Gaol to follow a monarch’s descent into madness in a local reinvention of a Shakespeare classic this month.

“When you first enter the gaol it’s very ominous and it takes your breath away because it’s such a huge empty space,” said actress Rose Musselwhite.

“It kind of adds that expectancy that something is going to go wrong. (The play has) a whole lot of betrayals and characters that work against each other.“

The Hamlyn Heights actress joins an all-female cast in the re-imagined Lear, in her first time performing in at the gaol.

“When I first heard it was going to be in the gaol it was such an exciting idea,” she said.

“There have been performances in the gaol before but not for a while.”

The cast would use the higher platforms of the gaol to their advantage, Musselwhite said.

“There’s a huge staircase up the middle and there’s cells either side of where we’re performing – where all the inmates would have been.”

She described the echoes of the music and actresses’ voices bouncing off the high walls and ceiling of the heritage-listed building during rehearsals as “eerie, foreboding and creepy”.

“It’s really cool. The whole atmosphere is completely different to your average theatre,” she said.

The 21-year-old plays (in this version Queen) Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia.

“She’s a very pure and kindhearted character and she loves her mother so much, but she doesn’t know how to express it,” she said.

Musslewhite imagined being separated from her mother Melissa, who also appears in the play, to portray Cordelia’s pain when Lear banishes her, she said.

She enjoyed the novelty of an all-female cast, which features another mother-daughter pair, Amber and Isobel Connor.

“There are so many talented actresses in the Geelong region,” she said.

“It’s really kind of inspiring to see how a group of women can create such an amazing work.”

The play had a steampunk theme thanks to the “amazing costumes” of local designer Emma Watson, Musslewhite said.

Directed by Steven Georgiadis, Lear comes to Old Geelong Gaol for eight performances beginning on 14 March.

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