BWW Review: Fully Immersive KING LEAR at OUT LOUD Theatre
OUT LOUD Theatre's production of KING LEAR is an incredibly ambitious undertaking both in terms of performance and also technical elements. The end result is a production that is almost overwhelming to take in, but that does an excellent job capturing the emotional drama of the play. Unfortunately, some plot points take a backseat to style in a way that doesn't quite work, but it's fair to say that this is unlike anything else that's out there right now.
King Lear may be a less commonly produced play, but it's safe to say that most people know at least the broad strokes of the plot--in particular the opening scenes where King Lear demands his three daughters recount their love for him, in order to determine their inheritances. Naturally, there are a many other political elements that go into the play as a whole, and some of those get lost in this recounting. OUT LOUD has imagined King Lear's court as a circus, complete with juggling clowns, the king's name in lights, and free popcorn for attendees. The audience is sat on four rolling platforms that are moved frequently during the first half of the play in a way that gives new vantage points to the action of the play, and symbolizes King Lear's descent into madness once he realizes the huge mistake he made with his daughters.
The cast in this production, many OUT LOUD regulars, are 100% committed to the conceit of the play. Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley as Regan and Ottavia De Luca as Goneril are terrifying and menacing, while Natasha Cole double cast as Cordelia and The Fool, manages to exude concern and love for her father, despite having very few lines. Alan Hawkridge is an excellent Lear. He captures the arrogance and the fall of this character beautifully, and in a way that feels completely real. Even toward the end when he's not actively participating in the story, he remains on the edge of the stage watching his kingdom crumble.
OUT LOUD is primarily known as a theatre company aiming to tell immersive stories through movement, and that treatment works somewhat well with King Lear. It's striking how much of a story one can tell while saying very little, and Kira Hawkridge's adaptation works well in the first half, but goes a bit off the rails toward the end. Paring down the plot and dialogue makes a lot of sense if one wants to tell the story of the three daughters and the mad king, but there is also a lot of emphasis on the character of Edmund, and toward the end several characters come back into the story that weren't properly established, leaving the audience in the weeds. The production could have found a way to either better establish those characters, or just take them out altogether, but the jettisoning of the script in the first half, only to come back to it later, just makes for a confusing viewing experience, and muddles the story it seems Hawkridge wanted to tell.
Consider the viewing experience that my theatre companion and I had at this production: I read King Lear in college, and don't remember it well beyond the basic plot; my theatre date was a professor of English who is very familiar with this play. I came out completely confused about what happened at the end, and she was incensed that some of the political undertones of the play were merely hinted at, but not fully developed. It seems the best way to view this production is to have recently read a synopsis of King Lear, so you can follow the plot, but not to be a deeply devoted fan. That's not to say that this production doesn't work, there is just a lot going on, and not much exposition.
Despite the incredible cleverness and newness of this production, there are several elements that repeat to the point where they become aggravating. The technical elements--sound and lighting in particular, are astonishing in their complexity, and really serve the story, for the most part. The aggravation comes with the frequent employment of whole popular songs to set the scene for particular situations, and then ending those scenes with an abrupt feedback jolt, and transitioning into a scene with dialogue. It's hard to describe, but feels like a callback to David Lynch, and it's effective at first when it seems to symbolize King Lear's more frequent breaks with reality and then jolting back into the "real world", but in the second half, the same technique is still used with other characters, so it's less clear if that was the intention at all.
Similarly the employment of playing full length songs rather than fading them out, or remixing them to be slightly shorter makes some scenes feel bloated, and undermines the poignancy of other scenes. The moveable seating platforms are overused in the first half, but are also an incredibly effective storytelling device 2/3 of the time.
One thing that is consistently reliable when it comes to OUT LOUD productions is that no matter how well a person knows the source material or thinks they know what to expect, they will be surprised. Despite some choices that don't work as well as others, this is an exciting live experience that is dazzling and unique.
Seating is extremely limited
Sunday November 12, 2017 @ 8pm Monday November 20, 2017 @ 8pm | PWYC
Sunday November 26, 2017 @ 8pm
Friday December 1, 2017 @ 8pm Saturday December 2, 2017 @8pm
Sunday December 3, 2017 @ 8pm
Photo: Alan Hawkridge as King Lear. Piquant Photo (Justine M. Johnson).