With no set—save for an iconic throne—and muted, contemporary costumes, Shakespeare BASH’d offers a thrilling and persuasive production of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear. This is the tale of an aging and petulant leader, alienated from his daughters, losing both his country and his mind while a violent storm rages both within and without.
As his reign comes to an end, Lear (Scott Wentworth) is thrown into a rage when his favourite of three daughters, Cordelia (Breanne Tice), doesn’t play into his narcissistic demand for an ostentatious declaration of love. Her sisters, Goneril (Melanie Leon) and Regan (Madelaine Hodges 賀美倫), in their attempts to humble him, eventually draw his ire as well.
The air is charged whenever Leon and Hodges provide their unified front—a clasping of hands, a gradual closing in on this increasingly deranged father figure. Wentworth is an intense and dynamic presence throughout. He lives the contrasting aspects of Lear—his explosive temper, his wit, his harrowing guilt and remorse—in a way that feels both totally operatic and completely real.
Tragic circumstances abound with tortured family dynamics entwined with political intrigue. A bastard son, Edmund (Deivan Steele), plots against both his legitimate brother, Edgar (Ngabo Nabea) and their father, Gloucester (David Mackett). Steele’s Edmund is a sleaze, sure, but undeniably charismatic and funny. Nabea, especially in his palsied Tom o’ Bedlam persona, is a wide-eyed, quietly arresting presence, and his final confrontation with the treacherous Edmund is truly satisfying. As his Gloucester finally sees the truth in his blind and bloodied state, Mackett is a compellingly wretched spectacle.
Director James Wallis veers away from the Sturm and Drang and allows the cast to lean more fully into the play’s humour. This lightness of touch does, paradoxically, heighten the story’s dark and devastating aspects. Movements are deliberate and purposeful, as is the delivery of text, which feels urgent, precise and expansive. The snug venue allows the actors to intrude on the audience’s space and, at key moments, acknowledge us directly. This captures the immediacy of Shakespeare’s theatre, which is intimate and populist.
Of the many unassuming, subtly evocative costumes, my eye was often drawn to The Fool’s plaid flannel coat and canvas satchel. Julia Nish-Lapidus is such a cozy sight; her relentless mocking of Lear feels quaint, as if she’s an overly familiar, eccentric relation one tolerates because their intentions are genuinely benign.
There is sparing use of sound effects—the odd royal trumpet, some thunder. Matt Nish-Lapidus’ design is minimal and does not draw attention to itself, though it could, specifically with the crucial storm, have been more immersive and atmospheric. The gentle knocking of a set of hanging bulbs is cute, but the violent weather is an important bit of pathetic fallacy and feels underrepresented here.
Marie Babb (Kent), Daniel Briere (Cornwall), Tristan Claxton (King of France, Oswald), 郝邦宇 Steven Hao (Duke of Burgundy) and Ben Yoganathan (Albany) fill out the remaining ensemble. The entire cast owns the poetry, mines it for all its abject and beautiful humanity.
This was my first experience with Shakespeare BASH’d and, well, they’ve got me now in the palm of their hands.