Last night I went to see last summer’s Stratford Festival production of King Lear at a participating Cineplex Theatre as part of their Front Row Centre programme. This was not a live performance, but an edited HD film shot at a live performance with a live audience, and it was exquisite from start to finish.
I saw Lear in a live satellite feed from London’s National Theatre last spring (also part of the Front Row Centre series), and was somewhat disappointed. Not that it wasn’t well acted or well produced — it was. However, I was overwhelmed by the violence and the sadness of that production and a bit put off by the fact that the costumes were not those of the Elizabethan theatre that Shakespeare would have known, but instead looked more like something out of the 20th century, possibly from one of the world wars. Call me a purist if you will, but when I see Shakespeare I’m looking for the majestic costumes and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with that. The Stratford performance did not disappoint in any way. The costumes were wonderful, the acting, superb.
With Colm Feore in the lead role, his descent into madness was carefully and craftily done. His fool (Stephen Ouimette) and his loyal friend, Kent (Jonathan Goad) were totally believable in their roles of steadfast support. Sara Farb was marvellous as Cordelia, the one true daughter who will not feign nor dissemble, and her sisters Regan and Goneril (Liisa Repo-Martell and Maeve Beatty, respectively) were also wonderful. There really was not a poor player among the cast, the swordplay at the end between the two half-brothers, sons of Gloucester, was excellent. Director Antoni Cimolino (also Artistic Director) has done an incredible job and the film editing is so seamless you completely forget you’re not watching a live performance.
The performance includes a 15-min. intermission where Cimolino takes you on a backstage tour of all the labs where they create props, costumes, jewelry, and conducts interviews with some of the cast. Worth watching if you didn’t absolutely need to take a break.
This is not a production for the very young due to the scene where Gloucester loses his eyes at the hands of Regan’s vile husband, and there are a lot of dead bodies lying around before it’s over. If you missed this performance of King Lear, there will be two more viewings — matinees on March 7th and 22nd in Canada, international dates may vary. If you’ve never seen Shakespeare and want to start with something less tragic, there are more in this series to come — King John, and in April, and Antony and Cleopatra in May and June. If you follow the links, you can see a trailer for the different productions. You can buy tickets online or check the dates and purchase them at the theatre. Sadly, these events are not even close to being sold out and they are both spectacular and affordable. I hope more people will begin taking advantage of these amazing opportunities.