NEARLY LEAR adapted from Shakespeare’s King Lear by Susanna Hamnett and Edith Tankus, directed by Tankus (Magpye). At the Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester). To February 3. Pwyc-$15. 416-703-2773. Rating: NNNN
Actor Susanna Hamnett has been absent from the stage for several years raising a family. So it’s appropriate that her impressive return comes via Nearly Lear, a bravura show emphasizing the parent-child bond in Shakespeare’s great tragedy.
Hamnett and her director Edith Tankus’s clown-based version is seen through the eyes of the Fool, here a Scottish woman named Noreen disguised as a man named Norris so she/he can work for the King and please her dad.
What Norris discovers is a family ripped apart by vanity and greed, culminating, of course, in a corpse-strewn final scene. A born jester, the fool wants us to have a good time, and underlines points colourfully, spraying himself with water to evoke a storm or handing out tissues so we can dry our inevitable tears.
Some jokes don’t quite work, and a few scenes go on a bit too long in the acoustically challenged Winchester Street Theatre space (better known as a dance venue).
But Hamnett disappears into the half-dozen characters (there’s no Kent or Edgar), clearly delineating the three sisters, the strutting Osmond and the decline and fall of the great king himself. This goes beyond mere party piece to become compelling, gripping theatre.
Under Tankus’s direction, Lindsay Anne Black’s movable screens work wonderfully to evoke palatial entrances, lusty beds or – in one poignant scene – a makeshift shawl for the mad Lear on the heath.
I won’t ruin the surprise of Gloucester’s blinding scene.
At one point, Norris, exhaustedly playing the two evil daughters and Lear, whispers to the audience that she deserves a Dora for her work. Not a bad idea.