Review: KING LEAR at Soulpepper Theatre

Soulpepper Theatre presents Shakespeare's King Lear playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 1

By: Sep. 12, 2022
Review: KING LEAR at Soulpepper Theatre

Soulpepper Theatre brings the Bard's classic tale of a King's descent into madness and his daughters' struggle with power to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 1. King Lear is presented in repertory with the new play Queen Goneril, a prequel story that examines the near dangerous ambition of King Lear's eldest daughter Goneril in her quest for the throne. Utilizing the same cast and set for the two productions, it is worth the effort to experience them both.

King Lear is a study of a love and power. The aging King (Tom McCamus) is nearing the end of his reign and is prepared to divide his kingdom into three for his daughters Goneril (Virgilia Griffith), Regan (Vanessa Sears), and Cordelia (Helen Belay). But before he does, he has but one request - that his daughters profess their love for him where the one that loves him the most will inherit the largest portion of the kingdom. While Goneril and Regan quickly dive into flattery and flowery adoration, Cordelia (the youngest and Lear's favorite) remains silent. When questioned, Cordelia's answers that she only loves her father as much as any daughter should. King Lear flies into a rage, disowning Cordelia, and dividing his kingdom in two for his remaining daughters.

McCamus delivers the clear stand out performance here, his portrayal of King Lear is just superb. He's bold and bombastic which adds further depth to his character as he descends into madness. This becomes blatant within the second and third act. Though their roles are smaller within this production, Griffith and Sears still shine as Goneril and Regan - their sisterly bond turned to sisterly rivalry tinged with deceit and betrayal is palpable. Longstanding Soulpepper performer Oliver Dennis plays Gloucester, King Lear's main attendant. As always, his delivery is outstanding - in particular with the very physical acting required of him as Gloucester meets his visceral and gory fate.

As is expected with a Soulpepper performance, the sets, lighting, sound, and sheer production value that is poured into this play is a symphony for the senses. Director Kim Collier along with set designer Ken MacKenzie, lighting designer Kimberly Purtwell, and sound designer and composer Thomas Ryder Payne have done remarkable work here in creating a visual and audial experience here that is explosive and sumptuous.

The only downside, and one that is to be expected, is the length. King Lear runs three and a half hours with two intermissions, so it is best to plan accordingly when attending. The story does seem to drag a bit especially within the second and final acts but overall this production of King Lear is well worth attending. Just be aware that this performance does include gunshots, flashing and strobe lights, fog and haze, gore and fake blood, violence and torture.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz.