Jeremy Hutton’s production of King Lear playing at the Hart House Theatre is a beautiful epic theatrical event. The first few moments of the production play like a movie with fascinating lighting effects (designed by Joshua Hind) and an intense soundscape (designed by Jason Browning) so aesthetically stunning you won’t want to blink in fear of missing a moment.
In Lear, Shakespeare’s characters are deeply embedded in an unsettled world where uncertainty leads to terror, which ultimately leads to death. The fear creates the illusion of blind madness where the innocent appear guilty, the politics are saturated in lies, and webs of deceit and betrayal are woven to preserve self-interest, wealth, power and land. The choice of play seems pertinent given the instability of our own political situation and that of our neighbors to the south.
Hutton’s direction is beautiful and exciting and the fight choreography by Jeremy Hutton and Christopher Mott is as captivating and exhilarating as a scene in a film. There is a particularly horrifying scene involving Cornwall (Philip Lortie) and Gloucester (Thomas Gough) which combines intelligent, crisp, simple staging with a crowd of servants reacting with extreme revulsion that sends shivers down the spine. Hutton may overuse his fun lighting effects slightly, as at times it does seem as though he is divorcing the character’s aside thoughts too much from the rest of the play. However, the lighting design works well to suggest this unstable world, and the disconnect between reality, and the skewed perceptions festering within the characters’ minds.
The performances in this production are so rich, and the lines are spoken with such clarity that one is able to really appreciate how gifted William Shakespeare was with words rather than feeling alienated, overloaded with pretentiousness, or awkward about actors stumbling over iambic pentameter. Some standouts include Lada Darewych, who plays the cold as ice Goneril without a hint of mercy, Will O’Hare who infuses the play with broad much-needed humor that remains within the realm of Jacobean fools and the traditions of carnival and Neil Silcox who infuses Edgar with a rich emotional journey from confusion to feigned-madness to anguish and despair. Benjamin Blais is deliciously wicked as Edmund, the young bastard son, who continually repels the audience’s inclination toward sympathy or pity, while slyly defying them not to enjoy his villainy. Thomas Gough is perfection as Gloucester; his performance is stunning and at times breathtaking, and it is balanced beautifully by the phenomenal portrayal of King Lear by the brilliant Peter Higginson. Higginson was born to play this role and I feel truly lucky to have been there to witness his performance.
King Lear is a story about the madmen leading the blind, where none but the fool speaks true. In honor of the fool, the player- the actor- who dares to speak truth amid the blindness and madness in the world, support Hart House Theatre and feast your eyes on a truly terrific production.
King Lear plays at Hart House Theatre until October 18th, 2008. 7 Hart House Circle. Toronto, Ontario. 416 978-8849 or visit http://www.harthousetheatre.ca/.