KING LEAR by William Shakespeare, directed by Brian Bedford (Stratford). At the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to October 28. $50-$93, srs $36-$50, stu $26. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NN
There's something skewed about a production of King Lear when the most memorable figures are Edgar and the Fool.
But that's the case at this year's Stratford staging of the tragedy, directed by and starring festival fave Brian Bedford. This is the kind of show where sumptuous costumes take the place of emotional depth.
The production has a number of cuts, including the loss of the Duke of Burgundy as a wooer of Cordelia; here only the French king comes courting. What's the matter? Aren't there enough actors in the company to give Burgundy his dozen lines? The character's not an extra; he has a function in the play. Problems go deeper, though, with pacing and casting. Playing Lear, Bedford tends to pause in the middle of lines, breaking their tension, and only sporadically rises to the part's grandeur. There's little oppotunity for anyone else to take the spotlight in this slow-moving production.
Though the greatness of the play can sometimes be felt, this is on the whole a passionless production. Goneril (Wenna Shaw) and Regan (Wendy Robie) are unsubtly, two-dimensionally evil and suggest no relationship, Edmund's (Dion Johnstone) Machiavellian plotting is wooden, and Gloucester (the usually forceful Scott Wentworth) is so low-key that he almost disappears.
Still, there are compensations. Peter Donaldson's Kent is solid and commanding, and Gareth Potter grows wonderfully as the naive but good Edgar during the course of the show; Potter's Poor Tom is a model of deeply felt, conflicted emotions.
Best of all is the Fool of Bernard Hopkins. Bitter, ironic, yet coddling when necessary, he's at the centre of this Lear, and his disappearance into the storm is a startling yet cogent explanation for the character's disappearance from the scene.