Thomas Gough (left) and Peter Higginson power through King Lear.
KING LEAR (Hart House). To October 18. 416-978-8849. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
Usually it's safe to be skeptical of productions that alter the Bard's intended setting, but director Jeremy Hutton's decision to set Lear in politically unstable post-Roman Britain is a good one.
It's a subtle shift - Lear is traditionally set in an ahistorical, pagan Britain - but one that underlines the senile king's crumbling power and growing confusion.
The set, designed by Scott Penner, consists of Roman archways that move around during scene changes and punctuate Hutton's suggestive segues. These blink-and-you'll-miss-them vignettes, illuminated as if by lightning, work surprisingly well to build tension and pace, and remind the audience of the play's complex subplots.
Peter Higginson demonstrates a deep understanding of the title role. He successfully intertwines both sides of Lear, showing physical flashes of his former power and authority but mixing those with the clear signs of dementia and frailty.
As Edmund, Benjamin Blais captures the base meaning of Shakespeare's flowery verses through his movements, and he's especially strong when he plants the seeds of his Machiavellian plot.