BWW Review: Shakespeare in High Park Thrills with KING LEAR and TWELFTH NIGHT
Some shows are born great, some shows achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. Presented by Canadian Stage, Shakespeare's KING LEAR and TWELFTH NIGHT are in the hands of a phenomenal group of artists - who thrust greatness on them six nights a week.
KING LEAR, directed by Alistair Newton, explores the court of a mad king, struggling to hold onto power. Using themes of madness, betrayal, forgiveness and love - Shakespeare takes us through a cycle of emotions with his infamous text. Newton's production plays like a chess match, his actors move across the stage very strategically. Each change of pace or place indicates a parallel shift in power. The monotone, dark focus of the costumes (designed by Carolyn Smith) elaborate on the depressed tone of the piece.
Newton portrays Lear as a woman, a monarch - Queen Lear. It's beautiful that we live in an era where an entire audience isn't even slightly phased by a change like this. The pronouns may be altered, but Lear's authority and power are not. Diane D'Aquila is mesmerizing in the title role, as a queen occupied by her busy, mad mind - straining to maintain order. D'Aquila is authoritative in voice and demeanour, even adding a maniacal laugh to keep her subjects in line.
The other players are just as wonderful. Jennie Burke is consistently irresistible. At the production I attended, director Alistair Newton stepped in playing the role of the fool on book - it did not distract from the performance in any way. Newton tunes into the pace of the piece - his dry humour worked exceptionally well for the Fool's witty one liners, getting most of the night's laughter. The sound of people laughing at Shakespeare is music to my ears.
TWELFTH NIGHT deals with similar themes of love, trickery and reconciliation. Director Tanja Jacobs' rendition takes place in the luxurious Hotel Illyria - a house of pleasure and emotion - filled with rich dukes, insatiable lovers and bored guests. Contrasting LEAR, Jacobs' TWELFTH NIGHT is bright and bubbly. Her players behave as if everyone is a tad inebriated - it sells the ridiculous schemes of the piece.
Naomi Wright steals the show as Olivia, the mourning Countess. Shakespeare sounds so lovely in her mouth as she passionately engages with the meter of the verses. Peter Fernandes and Jason Cadieux provide comic relief in their portrayal of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby. Fernandes' choreographed performance of a written letter had the audience in stitches. Unfortunately, the incorporated musical performances missed the mark and were not well received - they seemed unnecessary.
Shakespeare in High Park is the perfect summer theatrical experience. Bring a blanket, pack some bug spray - hey, even pack a picnic. I was jealous at some of the picnic spreads people had prepared. Escape the bustling city and experience two of the greatest plays ever written - performed by some exceptional talent.
KING LEAR and TWELFTH NIGHT are presented by Canadian Stage's Shakespeare in High Park and run through September 3, 2017.
KING LEAR runs every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8pm
TWELFTH NIGHT runs every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 8pm
Located at the High Park Amphitheatre in the middle of High Park.
Shows are 90 minutes with no intermission. Pay-what-you-can at the gate or reserve a $25 premium seat in advance
Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to make a reservation
(main photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)