Rachel and I went to see the Bard on the Beach production of King Lear last night. Lear is probably my favourite Shakespeare tragedy; I've read it more times than any other play (except Twelfth Night, which I acted in many moons ago). So I had high expectations--held in check somewhat by the fact that Lear is notoriously hard to stage.
The show's worth seeing for some of the performances alone, especially Bard Artistic Director Christopher Gaze in the title role. Also excellent were Patti Allan as Lear's fool (or nurse, in this staging, in which Lear is not only old, but infirm, spending most of the show in a wheelchair), Scott Bellis as Oswald, and Andrew Wheeler as a chilly Duke of Cornwall. There were no really weak performances, although Gerry MacKay, as Kent, occasionally obscured his lines by shouting them.
The performance was marred by some highly dubious decisions in the direction and stage management. The blocking was bloody awful, amateurish even. We were seated to the side, granted, but I could tell from our vantage that even for people seated stage centre, much of the drama must have been obscured by bad angles--including lines delivered from behind massive pillars. The cave scene was mostly acted out from a high, cramped balcony, for no readily apparent reason.
There was a musical element that sometimes worked, but often felt tacked-on and I can't figure out why the musicians (a cellist and someone playing a couple of xylophonish instruments, one very large) spent the entire play in prominent positions on the stage; this can't have helped with the blocking. The music in the storm scenes was often so loud that it drowned out the lines being spoken by the actors. At times, music turned what should have been pathetic scenes into humorous ones, causing audience giggling at rather unfortunate moments.
The modernisation of the play did nothing for it, either. This Lear is set in the "near future," with guns substituted for swords. Why? It seems to me to make costuming and fight direction easier, because otherwise, it added no new nuance to the play, unlike say Ian McKellen's film version of Richard III.
But as I said, it's still worth checking out, as long as you don't mind spending $33 on an imperfect show.