My annual summer visit to Stratford was highlighted with this year’s much-acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Stratford Festival. The Bard’s 450th birthday celebration has been celebrated everywhere around the world with a lot of fanfare. This is not only because William Shakespeare was the most lauded poet and playwright during his times, but also due to the fact that he remains relevant to all audiences even today.
I always prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies to his comedies, and King Lear is among my favourites. Honestly speaking, having read so many great reviews, I saw the Stratford production with the greatest expectations, but concluded that it was a good show, but not as brilliant as what everybody thought! This is probably the fifth Lear that I’ve seen, and I was underwhelmed by the essential storm scene where Edgar is supposed to be stark naked instead of barely clothed, and where there should be torrential rain in addition to thunderous roars. In this regard, the great Sir Kenneth Branagh’s production of the same play and his rendition of Edgar as Mad Tom in Toronto back in 1990, was much more impactful as I recall him howling in his naked self amidst the horrid storm that became the ‘mad’ metaphor both inside and outside Lear’s frail mind and body.
Colm Feore, one of the best actors of our times, is, in my opinion, a bit too young to play Lear. When compared to William Hutt and Christopher Plummer who have both played leading roles as the mad monarch, Feore lacked the frailty and vulnerability of old age that only senior-citizen actors could convey. When my friend reminded me that Lear in Shakespeare’s times was not supposed to be that old, I responded that, perhaps, the actresses who played his daughters Regan and Goneril, were not young enough to be a contrast to their ailing father.
But, age aside, the play is most powerful when after so many years, Shakespeare’s great tragedy remains relevant to baby boomers of the 21st century. As mentioned in his Director’s notes, Antoni Cimolino, of the Stratford Festival, most aptly said, “Being young and finding work has seldom been harder; debt levels will take years to be reduced, while an enormous generation of baby boomers will require more expensive medical care….The generational tension of King Lear speaks to us today as never before.”
I have witnessed many of my parents’ friends who, like Lear, have divided and given their wealth away to their boomer kids when the parents were still alive and kicking. Consequently, like Lear, they have also been disowned by their beloved sons and daughters once they have gained material possessions from their aging parents. How should true filial and parental love be measured? Would baby boomers still take care of their elderly parents if the latter become penniless, sick and foolish in their old age? Should boomer parents still house their boomerang millennial kids until the latter have repaid their debts and become financially independent or should they give their children an early inheritance?
Even though this current production of Lear did not move me to tears, it’s still bleak, tragic and potent enough to make us question humanity after all these years!