Deception, betrayal, murder and insanity in King Lear

Monday Magazine's theatre critic Sheila Martindale reviews King Lear

No one said that mounting a Shakespearean tragedy would be easy; come to that, no one said that watching one would be a piece of cake either. However, the company of Shakespeare-by-the-Sea chose it as one of their productions this summer, and it is well worth seeing.

The plot is difficult and complex, filled with deception, betrayal, murder and insanity; to say nothing of two highly dysfunctional families and the cut-throat ways of the nobility in the pre-Christian era.

One of the most difficult characteristics to portray on the stage has to be that of a person descending into madness, or even of pretending madness as a means to an end.  Brian Thibodeau in the title role, and Tim Martin as Edgar, both do an outstanding job, and both of them avoid overplaying their parts.  This must be due to the skillful work of director Robert Light, who also manages to steer this large and somewhat unwieldy cast on and off the relatively small stage with ease, in the tent at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Lear’s three daughters obviously have majorly important roles, all of which are well-handled by Becca Elliot as Goneril, Misty Anna as Regan, and Euphemia MacMurchy as the pivotal character of Cordelia, Lear’s favourite and ill-used youngest daughter. MacMurchy also has the difficult role of the Fool, who accompanies Lear on his journey into loneliness and insanity – no easy task.

Dennis Eberts is a fabulous Gloucester, unsuccessfully trying to manage his sons – one of whom is illegitimate; and Rob Friesan plays the heroic and loyal (albeit ingognito) Kent, with grace and finesse.

There are challenges associated with any outdoor production; the main one here is distraction from the play by everything going on at the Wharf – dogs chasing Frisbees and each other, pedestrians strolling by and looking in, the usual activity on the water, and the awkward noise of float planes and helicopters.  The latter of which contributes to a few of the lines being overpowered, so we can’t put all the blame on the actors if we miss some of the dialogue.

For me, I found the unimaginative costuming a particular drawback.  Everyone except the Fool in unadorned black, which render some of the characters undistinguishable from each other, especially as many of the actors wear uniform silver masks.  Unfair to compare, but I missed the lavish clothing seen in other productions of the same play.  However, the swords are most impressive!  As are the fights, the killings, and the nasty business of cutting Gloucester’s eyes out.  I perhaps should have mentioned that this play may not be for the squeamish.

Be sure to take warm clothing, it can be chilly, especially in the evenings.  I took a flask of hot chocolate, which was welcome at the interval.

King Lear runs until August 20 on Thursdays at 7:00 pm, and Saturdays 2:00 and 7:00 pm.  Tickets at victoriaticket.ca, $29 or $25 for students, seniors and anyone not arriving in a car.  Also in Nanaimo September 15-17.

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