By Robert W. Bethune
As director, Brian Bedford gives us a play of “the old raging on the old.” His Lear is certainly “fourscore years and upwards,” and Goneril and Regan are played in their 60s. Albany and Cornwall match the ages of their darling wives, and Kent and Gloucester are also of that generation. The only young people are Cordelia, Edmund and Edgar. Even the Fool is in his 50s. A wave of brutality breaks out among an entire generation that should be too old for this, even with Edgar as catalyst.
As an actor, Brian Bedford is usually recognizably Brian Bedford. Not so this time. Lear plays him, not the other way around, and that is as it should be.
Sara Topham as Cordelia is younger than her sisters, and kinder, but she matches them in steel. Her refusal to fawn on Lear is both rigid and untactful. She is absolutely her father’s daughter.
Stratford does a better job of speaking Shakespeare than does the RSC. Stratford has actors like Gareth Potter as Edgar. He made every word ring with clarity, thereby avoiding mush, and brilliantly articulated every thought, thereby avoiding fog. I have not yet seen either company do an entire play without mush or fog, but there is less at Stratford.
There are just two flashes of visual brilliance: the lightning strikes in the storm scene, and the final tableau. The play has no set; it is done on the bare thrust of the Festival stage with only a throne for Lear and a chair for Gloucester. The costumes, by Ann Curtis, are subdued, with subtle use of color.
Stratford Festival of Canada at the Avon Theatre. In repertory, Tues.-Sun., through Oct. 28. Tickets: $40-$108 Canadian. For information: 800-567-1600 or http://www.stratfordfestival.ca.