Friday, June 26, 2015

It's not easy being King

Bard’s Lear beguiles
by Christopher Key

Shakespeare purists rejoice!  Bard on the Beach brings you a very straightforward and uncut version of King Lear on the BMO Mainstage at Vancouver’s lovely Vanier Park.  It’s a stunning contrast to the intricacy of The Comedy of Errors, with which it runs in repertory.  There are very few bells and whistles, although there are appropriate trumpet fanfares.

This is a collaboration with Theatre Calgary and is directed by Dennis Garnham, their Artistic Director.  Albertans are known for their no-nonsense approach to life on the prairie and that may have contributed to the sparse atmosphere of this production.

Scott Bellis is The Fool and Benedict Campbell is King Lear.  Photo credit - David Blue

Benedict Campbell delivers a towering, nuanced performance as the title character.  He captures Lear’s departure from reality so convincingly that he takes the audience right along with him.  Campbell’s vast list of credits includes The Stratford Festival, where he performed Lear in the Big Apple.

Jennifer lines as Regan and Colleen Wheeler as Goneril.  Photo credit - David Blue

As any parent understands, insanity is hereditary.  You get it from your children and Lear’s daughters demonstrate why.  Bard favorites Colleen Wheeler and Jennifer Lines play Goneril and Regan, respectively, with an attitude that has the men scraping and groveling.

Younger sister Cordelia is equally formidable, but in a somewhat less confrontational manner.  Bard newcomer Andrea Rankin radiates purity and innocence in the role.  She’s another Albertan and reinforces that honesty in her portrayal.

David Marr as Gloucester and Michael Blake as Edmund.  Photo credit - David Blue

If you think Lear has problems with his kids, just check out his loyal supporter, the Earl of Gloucester.  Bard vet David Marr plays the role with power and passion.  Watch for some very nifty (if gory) special effects when the Duke of Cornwall performs some ophthalmic surgery on Gloucester.

Gloucester's got two sons, one legit and one not so much.  Nathan Schmidt plays the good and loyal son whose mother Gloucester married.  He’s terrific as Edmund, but really rocks the place when disguised as Poor Tom.  Michael Blake is a thoroughgoing, and absolutely delightful, bastard as the scheming Edgar.

Played properly, any of Shakespeare’s fools can steal the show.  Scott Bellis does it here with a look reminiscent of Beetlejuice and gets to show off his instrumental chops, as well.

Goneril and Regan’s beleaguered husbands are played by Declan O’Reilly and Robert Klein.  They eventually grow a pair (or two pair, in this case), but it’s too little too late.  Bard regulars Craig Erickson, Chirag Naik, Ian Butcher and Anousha Alamian round out the cast.

The starkly simple set was designed by Pam Johnson and that background means Costumer Deitra Kailyn gets to show off.  Gerald King designed the moody lighting and Dave Pierce composed original music.

Fight scenes at Bard are always fun to watch and often scarily realistic.  Haysam Kadri and Karl Sine create sensational swordplay.

King Lear plays in repertory with The Comedy of Errors on Bard’s main stage.  The British Columbia festival sells out upward of 95 percent of its season, so the wise fool will purchase early by calling toll-free 1-877-739-0559 or online at the Bardsite.  While you’re there, check out the other events highlighting the Bard season, including fireworks, barbecue, wine and opera.

You probably won’t need that blanket this year.

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