Shakespeare’s classic tragedy was brought to life with all of the drama, gore and madness we have come to know and love

Flashes of lightning crack, thunder roars and a stumbling madman emerges from the backdrop.

His shirt is un-tucked, his hair is full of static but, most telling, is the wild spark that fills his eyes, and the angry pitch with which he yells heavenward.

So enters the mad King Lear to the bittersweet pleasure of a rapt Calgary theatre audience. What the actor, Benedict Campbell, has successfully done, is made you want to both scold the foolish king, and give him a comforting pat on the shoulder.

The scene described above is the first we see after the intermission of Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear, which ran from March 10 until April 12.

Where the first half of the play is full on Shakespearean plotting, dialogue and pensive monologues, the second is pure action and includes gouged eyeballs, a ranting half naked madman, and assorted deserved deaths.

King Lear is the famous Shakespeare play, which brings to life the tale of the King of Britain’s descent into madness, and then his journey out of it, which ends with tragedy, great loss and ultimately his death.

Intrigue abounds as brothers clash, and sisters with sharp tongues and nasty streaks are backed into corners. Throughout the play, Lear’s kingdom is divvied up among the royal family, and the show has all the ingredients of any good Shakespearean tragedy.

The story centers on Lear and his three daughters, Goneril (played by Colleen Wheeler), Regan (Jennifer Lines) and Cordelia (Andrea Rankin). The aged king loves his youngest, Cordelia, the most, and this leads to complications, especially after his own egotistical word game of ‘how much do you love me?’ causes him to banish her. Eventually vultures in the royal family try to wrestle away power from his feeble hands, then betray the proud Lear.

The devious bastard son Edmund, played by Tyrell Crew in Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear.

Photo by Trudi Lee

The characters themselves feature some quirky and brooding additions in their mix. One in particular stands out among the rest: the fool, who is King Lear’s Court Jester, played by Scott Bellis.

The fool, adds some much-needed levity into the first act. Wearing a coxcomb on his head, he spends a majority of his stage time leaping from place to place. Curiously, his mad interpretation of Lear’s confused reality does lend a bizarre sort of clarity to the king’s situation.

This is especially apparent when the fool eerily jests to King Lear, “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen,” foreshadowing all the devastating events to come.

Heart-breaking too is the excellent performance of the Earl of Gloucester, played by David Marr, who is the play’s one paternal character you can’t help but feel badly for as misfortune after misfortune befalls him.

There was a scene that sticks out because of its unnecessary gore. The Earl of Gloucester’s eyeballs are, in stomach-churning fashion, carved out his head and at one point even trodden upon. It did little to add to the script other than induce cringes and distraction at all the fake blood for a full two minutes afterward.

Tyrell Crews’ performance of Edmund, the crafty bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, is charmingly sinister. He plots for revenge by promoting multiple sibling entanglements making him both convincing and likable as a villain.

Benedict Campbell as King Lear, in his royal garb.

Photo provided by Trudi Lee

While actor Andrea Rankin, as the young Cordelia, plays the doe-eyed daughter well; there is something a little grating about her over the top sweetness that came off as insincere near the end. It seemed as though her tone and demeanor changed little whether responding to a marriage proposal or being angry at her father’s mistreatment.

The Shakespearean world of King Lear, so artfully woven by the troupe of Theatre Calgary actors, doesn’t seem very far off from our own world, which is perhaps why the play still feels so relevant. These themes of undying devotion, betrayal and greed still saturate news media, television and movies because they are reflections of human reality and frailty.

All in all, getting through the more slow-paced first half is well worth the wait. The explosion of passion, blood and revenge in the second half leaves you completely sated in a way only an excellent acting troupe and script can do.

jdorozio@cjournal.ca

To contact the editors responsible for this story; Garrett Harvey at gharvey@cjournal.ca; Evan Manconi at emanconi@cjournal.ca