King Lear at Shakespeare in High Park

Robert Persichini, Diane D'Aquila in King Lear at Shakespeare in High Park, photo credit Cylla von Tiedemann
Robert Persichini, Diane D'Aquila in King Lear at Shakespeare in High Park, photo credit Cylla von Tiedemann

By Lory Diaz

Shakespeare in High Park is on and this year features their first-ever production of King Lear! This year’s double bill pairs King Lear with Twelfth Night or What You Will, exploring themes of madness, love, loyalty, betrayal, and reconciliation. Artistic & General Director of Canadian Stage, Matthew Jocelyn believes this year’s directorial talent brings a “…delicious sense of theatrical liberty and contemporary wit…” to the 2017 SIHP season.

This year’s directors, Alistair Newton and Tonja Jacobs, are both recent graduates of the York University Stage Direction MFA program. The Canadian Stage proudly partners with York University to give students an opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills with a professional theatre company. This not only allows for the growth and enrichment of all involved, but also for new perspectives and fresh performances keeping each summer season delightfully entertaining.

Robert Persichini, Diane D'Aquila in King Lear at Shakespeare in High Park, photo credit Cylla von Tiedemann
Robert Persichini, Diane D’Aquila in King Lear at Shakespeare in High Park, photo credit Cylla von Tiedemann

I learned that this year was no exception when I was invited to attend a performance of King Lear, Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about a King’s descent into madness after he splits his kingdom amongst two of his three daughters, banishing the most loyal and loving of the three. Director Alistair Newton changed the title character from a King to a Queen, presenting the audience with a bold and powerful female lead.

Queen Lear is played by the always outstanding Diane D’Aquila, who is a multiple award-winning stage and screen actress. She starred in the first-ever season of Shakespeare in High Park in 1983, and returns with such dynamic performance! D’Aquila brilliantly delivers the stubborn determination and passion of a head-strong monarch, with a commanding voice that resonates throughout. Newton believes that Queen Lear rules “…by being twice as ‘male’…” and D’Aquila talent really underscores that point.

Other notable performances for King Lear are Jenni Burke who plays the Countess of Kent, and Michael Man as Edgar. Burke injects comedic relief with a fantastic physicality, so make sure to keep an eye out on other plays that she’s involved with! Michael Man has a subtle tenderness towards the wounded Earl of Gloucester that pulls the viewer in emotionally. Strong performances from both!

Costume design for King Lear was done by Carolyn M. Smith, who did a fantastic job of giving each character personality while maintaining an all black palette that would normally seem quite limiting. In the opening scene of the play the audience is treated to the complete dressing of Queen Lear, allowing for an appreciation of the many details and layers required for the completed look. For anyone who appreciates fashion design or textile arts, this is an absolutely delight!

Smith’s modern costumes are complemented nicely by the set design of Claire Hill, who added a raised platform center stage that houses a set of doors directly beneath. This is used throughout the play to have characters transition in and out of rooms, dimensions, and scenes quite nicely. Both set and costumes add the touch of modernity that not only contributes to Newton’s take on Shakespeare’s King Lear, but also to the success of Shakespeare in High Park that keeps audiences returning year after year.

There’s a new feature this year at Shakespeare in High Park, as the Canadian Stage celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday. Alongside their free all-ages pre-show programming and day-long events at High Park Amphitheatre throughout the summer, they’re offering Territorial Tales: showcase for young writers that invites audiences to see three new works on the themes of displacement, migration and settlement. These run now until September 2, 2017 so make sure to inquire and support the next generation of Canadian talent!

If the heavier themes in King Lear just aren’t for you, make sure to check Tanja Jacob’s of the comedy Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Shakespeare in High Park. Performances alternate throughout the week between the two plays with King Lear playing Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Make sure to bring a cozy blanket, and some snacks, to make the most of the open picnic policy! Enjoy!