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BWW Review: QUEEN GONERIL at Soulpepper Theatre

Review: QUEEN GONERIL at Soulpepper Theatre

Soulpepper Theatre presents Queen Goneril, a prequel to King Lear told in plain English, on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 2

Set seven years before the tragic events in King Lear, playwright Erin Shields takes on the dynamic character of Goneril, Lear's eldest daughter, posing the questions of what drives her ambition? What if she were given the opportunity to vent her frustrations? Taking note that Goneril is limited in her lines throughout King Lear, Shields has given her additional voice and a raging storm. Utilizing the same cast of characters and the same set as in their production of King Lear, Soulpepper Theatre presents Queen Goneril, directed by Weyni Mangesha.

The performance begins with a filmed dialogue between Virgilia Griffith who plays Goneril and Tom McCamus who portrays King Lear as they discuss the drive behind their characters and how the play Queen Goneril came to be. Most notable in this dialogue is the deliberately humorous way that McCamus mansplains King Lear and his position over Goneril and the way McCamus repeatedly speaks over Griffith throughout. A great way to set the stage for the show ahead.

What we see in Queen Goneril is a story of three sisters, told in plain English which makes it significantly easier to understand for those who aren't as familiar with Shakespeare's iambic pantameter. Three sisters whose stories we wish were more prominent in King Lear - Goneril's ambition and determination, an eldest daughter who sees the aging of her father begin to affect his mental ability, who sees a kingdom in need of new and fresh leadership and knows she is the best person to take on that role. We see the middle daughter Regan (Vanessa Sears) working with the hand that all middle children are dealt - often ignored and yet eager to be seen. Finally, Cordelia (Helen Belay), the youngest daughter who the adults see as just a child and are shocked to find that she is growing up and developing her own opinions and automomy.

Griffith, Sears, and Belay bring this story to life. Their chemistry as siblings along with their emotive and raw performances bring this production to a whole new level. It's awe inspiring and mesmerizing to watch them, in particular in the second act. It's just truly stunning. As well, Breton Lalama as Olena/Oswald, Goneril's maid and secret lover, brings out a unique dynamic in Goneril that was otherwise unexpected.

The production team came out en force for Queen Goneril and their talents are highlighted with the magnitude of the storm scene. The combination of lighting design by Kimberly Purtell, sound by Thomas Ryer Payne, and Ken MacKenzie's set design make the storm real and tangible. I fully expected to feel cold and rained on.

Queen Goneril and King Lear are both must see performances by Soulpepper theatre and are definitely worthwhile seen together or in quick succession.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Regional Awards


From This Author - Samantha Wu

Samantha is both a writer and a fan of the arts and has been able to find numerous ways to pair the two. Formerly an editor and writer at Mooney on Theatre, she also serves as a photojournalist for... (read more about this author)


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