Queen Lear – a play about a play

Part of the handful of theatre ticket vouchers that I acquired in the Rapid Fire Theatre Date Night auction in January was a pair of tickets to see Eugene Strickland’s Queen Lear, a Shadow Theatre production at the Varscona Theatre.  John Hudson directed, and the cast included Alison Wells as Jane, Ellie Heath as Heather, and Diana Nuttall as The Cellist.  The Cellist did not have a speaking role, but she was an active contributor to the story, as the music seemed to represent Jane’s inner thoughts and emotions.  Jane could hear the music, and sometimes it was loud enough to distract her or irritate her, even to the point of yelling “shut up!”  The Cellist also had an expressive face, showing what she was thinking about the various conversations and actions on stage.  I really enjoyed what the music and the musician added to the performance.

Jane is an actor in her 70s, who has been cast as Lear in an all-female production and who is anxious about being able to memorize her lines.  Heather is a 15yo family friend whom Jane has hired to run lines with her.  The show in which I’d seen Ellie Heath most recently, KIA Productions’ Closer,  also takes advantage of the actor’s skill at using unguarded facial expressions and casual postures to emphasize her character being younger than the others. As Heather, she’s a likeable young person with good manners but she is blunt, impatient, and uninterested in the problems of her elders.  In each scene, Jane and Heather work through a bit of the script in order, and they gradually get to knowing and trusting each other.  Heather lives with her widowed father.  Jane lives alone and is lonely and sometimes worried about being able to perform adequately in the play.

Costumes and stage dressing make a beautiful warm autumn-colours palette.  In the final scene, we see a small excerpt from the performance of Lear, with Jane in a rich gown too heavy for her and with Heather playing Cordelia, and it is so effective that it made me and my playgoing companion wish to see a whole production of King Lear with the title role being a woman.   Parts of the performance made me think about the third season of Slings and Arrows, and how easy it is to entwine the story of an aging performer with the struggles of playing King Lear.  Having it be a woman made me get it more, I think, too.

The run continues at the Varscona Theatre until March 30th.  More details are here along with a link to Tix on the Square.  It’s worth seeing, and generates lots to talk about.

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