Groundling Theatre Company has outdone itself with its latest production. Lear, directed by company founder Graham Abbey, is a breathtaking, beautiful exploration of what Shakespeare’s King Lear has to offer.
At the helm of this exploration is the adoption of a female Lear. Seana McKenna portrays a powerful, maternal, and pitiable Queen Lear.Watching her exchanges with her daughters, to see how things change from formal to violent to broken: McKenna, along with Debora Hay, Diana Donnelly and Mercedes Morris, who superbly portray Lear’s daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, take us through it all. What I’m so amazed by is how having Queen Lear changes so much and yet truly so little. Nothing about the plot of the play has to change, and yet the gravity that some of the moments carry become exponentially weighted as the words are being passed from one woman to another. It opens up an unquestionable avenue for productions going forward, as to have a Queen Lear was just as understandable, moving, and engaging as it’s traditional forbearers.
The characters are expertly explored and embodied by the stellar cast assembled for this production. The slow, steady decline of McKenna’s Lear is heartbreaking to witness; the madness so convincingly manifested that it has become a hallmark in my mind of what Lear’s madness can truly be. Then to be matched in the scene with Antoine Yared’s “poor Tom”/Edgar; it was as mesmerizing as it was chilling. Colin Mochrie provided a stand out performance as Lear’s Fool. An interesting role in its own right, Mochrie brought such a beautiful dry humour to him that you can’t help but laugh at such a melancholy fool. One thing that always stands out to me is the connection between Lear and the Fool, and this production was no exception, with the Fool’s endearments of “n’auntie” bringing a smile to my face every time. Kevin Hanchard as Kent and Jim Mezon as the Earl of Gloucester give impressive performances, along with Alex McCooeye as the despicable Edmund. The great thing about Shakespeare’s characters is that they are not often one dimensional, and these actors certainly capitalized on the depth given to their characters by the Bard. With an ensemble rounded out by Alex Poch-Goldin, Karl Ang, Augusto Bitter, as well as musicians George Meanwell and Graham Hargrove, the audience is totally enthralled and carried away by the story unfolding before them.
The sets and costumes allow for this transportation and tell us so much about the characters themselves. One aspect of the clothing that I found the most interesting is the scarves. The daughters having red ones when they are loyal to Lear to match her red cravat, and then Cordelia’s changing to a blue/gray when she is married to France, but Goneril and Regan leaving theirs all together. Their clothing also gets more masculine as their love for their mother lessens and their independence starts (not to mention their animosity for one anther). Meanwhile Edmund’s scarf is black with red and white, signs of his desire not to be totally labelled a villain. Of course Lear’s physical transformation is only to be matched by her mental one; the less wits the less formal her clothing becomes as bits and pieces are tossed aside. The attention to detail simply in regards to the costuming, not to mention the minutia of the play itself, is beyond commendable and makes the play a visual feast for the audience. Yet the set and the costumes only enhance the performances given; a palette from which the actors paint the story.
One of the best technical moments of Lear is the tempest into which Lear hurls herself and her company. The storm is such a pivotal scene with some of the most beautiful poetry in all of Shakespeare’s cannon being hurled against the storm by Lear. The demonstration of the power of nature against a seemingly all-powerful sovereign was excellently displaying in this production. The lightning flashes and raging thunder put you right there with Lear, the Fool and Kent. But when the storm stops and McKenna so beautifully delivers part of Lear’s speech, you can hear a pin drop, and I was so fully lost in the beauty of the moment that I lamented the storm starting back up again and taking me out of such a peaceful moment.
This unique, breathtaking, moving experience just opened at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto. Take some time for yourself and see it. It has forever changed how I see Lear, a play already near and dear to my heart.
For more information go to: http://groundlingtheatre.com/
Tickets can be purchased at: https://my.harbourfrontcentre.com/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=30099
Cover photo from Groundling Theatre Company’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Groundling/photos/a.359739520733164.92485.265706720136445/1778278118879290/?type=3