Old Before it is Wise Stratford’s Lear is somehow less than the sum of its parts by Dave Ross and Stuart Munro @dmjross @StuartMunroTO
The Stratford Festival’s 62nd season opened last night with a new production of King Lear. Starring Colm Feore, and directed by festival Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino. This Lear boasts some stellar performances and wonderful design elements. Yet despite this, something fell flat.
Dave Ross: There are many pieces to King Lear – betrayal, rivalry, madness – but none of them seem to ever really come together. It lacks a cohesiveness of narrative, feeling instead like a number of different stories moving in parallel and with only glancing blows as they rub up against once another. I can’t fault the performers though – this was a solid cast across the board.
Stuart Munro: I have to agree. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. Everyone had a moment to shine – no one made me wish they’d been cast differently. The descent of Feore’s Lear into madness was clearly crafted and heartbreaking, and Scott Wentworth’s Gloucester was equally as captivating and moving. My difficulty came from my lack of familiarity with the play itself. There are so many threads in Lear that, if you’re not prepared for them, will slip away before you’ve had a chance to grasp them. This becomes a problem in the production’s second half when the plots and intrigues are changing almost as fast as they’re being revealed. I simply couldn’t keep up with the brisk pacing.
DR: The pacing was actually so brisk that I had some difficulty distinguishing individual words. In a play as text-heavy and as complex as this one, every word matters, and I found myself missing more than a few. This was compounded at times by the restrained lighting design by Michael Walton. There are definitely spots where I wished I could have seen the actors’ faces more clearly, perhaps if only to be able to see their lips move. Overall, I enjoyed the production design. The storm was downright startling, and I continue to enjoy the festival returning to the austere festival stage with minimal dressing.
SM: Eo Sharp’s decision to adorn only the balcony level of the stage allowed the scene changes to happen swiftly and seamlessly, and her rich Jacobean wardrobe allowed characters to be easily identified from scene to scene (which can be a problem with a cast this size). Ultimately, it’s director Cimolino’s pacing that holds this production back. For me, unfamiliar as I am with the story, the production seemed to be simply about getting the basics of the story told – I wasn’t able to glean anything deeper from it, despite the text’s multiple possibilities.
DR: I’ll second that. It’s a strong production with a lot going for it, but as we discovered after the fact, it would have been better to read the program notes before the performance instead of after. But that’s another conversation for another day. In the meantime, King Lear is a solid, functional work with strong performances, so consider adding it to your summer plans.