King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most tragic and beloved plays, and Theatre Passe Muraille’s production is brilliant in every aspect. Adapted by Rod Carley and staring the always-brilliant David Fox, King Lear tells the story of an aging king descending into madness, set in Upper Canada, 1837.
The set is a phenomenal piece of craftsmanship. It is simple, yet eye dazzling, and it instantly fills the audience with excitement, as they wait for the show to begin. Designed by Frank Vona, the set is intricate and beautiful, complementing the performance in every way. All of the actors are one with it, and that connection can be felt for the entire 3 hours and 45 minutes. The costumes, designed by Peggy Haskins and Rod Carley, are vibrant masterpieces, and assist in bringing the performance to life for the audience.
Rod Carley helps draw a comparison between Lear’s time and the 19th century, by setting the play in Upper Canada in the mid-1800s. At this time, Canada was in the midst of a rebellion and there was a division between Upper and Lower Canada. In the city of York, which later on became our Toronto, there were rebellions against the government. These rebellions fit nicely into the plot of King Lear -- a story about a king dividing his kingdom, which eventually causes civil war and war within his family. Carley took an interesting, relatable avenue to adapt his show to. The parallel gives the play a new twist. Carley’s vision is clear, precise and original.
The cast is a mix of seasoned veterans and talented youth working together in harmony; most of the actors fit their roles in the piece and compliment the show nicely. However, there are some moments where the gap between amateur and veteran stands out a little too clearly. Star performer David Fox, who plays the maddening King Lear, is remarkable in every aspect. Fox has been a master of Canadian theatre for over 40 years capturing audiences in both stage and film with works such as Pacific Rim, Road to Avonlea, and The Drawer Boy, which he performed at Theatre Passe Muraille many years earlier. As Lear, Fox’s ability to dominate the stage is felt within the entire theatre. His descent into madness is performed with such precision; it is evident from the moment he walks on stage and is so gradual that a part of you feels like it is descending with him. It is a beautiful disaster in the most wonderful way.
Another standout performer is Charlie Tomlinson as the Earl of Gloucester, who captures the attention of the audience with every word he speaks. We all feel his naivety, and his cruel fate pierced not only his eyes, but also the hearts of everyone in the audience. Tomlinson and Fox deserve the highest amount of praise for their performances in this production.
Lear is a breakdown of family dynamics, a theme that resonates as strongly today as it did 400 years ago. Lear is a tragic tale of a father so obsessed with being loved by his daughters, that it becomes his downfall. Beautifully crafted in every aspect, Theatre Passe Muraille’s King Lear is one for the ages.
Presented by The Watershed Shakespeare Festival Collective, King Lear is running at Theatre Passe Muraille until Dec. 6. For more information visit http://kinglearproject.com/.