Opening night at the Stratford Festival is always exciting. Men in tuxedos, women in gowns, celebrities – it all adds to the excitement. Then add one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, Antoni Cimolino directing and Colm Feore starring and what more could you want? As it happened, not much. Feore’s Lear starts as an arrogant, lounging, self centred man, who gives little or no thought to the consequences of his actions and lives to pay the price. Cimolino as always has made the narrative clear, although I did hear one audience complaint that it was hard to keep track of who is who. I put that down to Shakespeare and the inevitable confusion between Edmund and Edgar, not to speak of Poor Tom. One advantage of watching the Festival company over many years is that it is possible to recognize the actor under the role, which may not be possible for the new comer.
In any case, a fantastic cast did a wonderful job. Feore is a wonderful Lear. Frivolous, vain, angry, mad and sad. He covers the gamut of emotions. I was watching for the scene where he curses Goneril (having watched a video with the three actors playing the sisters at NTL) and was amazed by the vitriol. But it wasn’t just because I was watching for it that it had impact, since the whole audience gasped audibly when he finished. Feore’s performance was so real that I felt sympathy for the daughters and then eventually for the man himself.
The rest of the cast was excellent, too. Maev Beatty as Goneril, Lisa Repo-Martell as Regan and Sarah Farb as Cordelia were all believable and even sympathetic characters. Stephen Ouimette was a wonderfully understated fool. Jonathan Goad was a solid friend as Kent, and Scott Wentworth, Evan Builung and Brad Hodder as Gloucester and his sons were great. The scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out was terrifying. I may not think of Mike Shara the same way again. He and Michael Blake were solid as Cornwall and Albany.
The people who did not like Lear are the people who do not like Lear. I used to be one of them, but I find the more often I see this play, the more I see in it. And the more you see in it, the easier it is to like it. i liked it a lot.