Forget the introduction to Shakespeare’s King Lear provided by your high school English class. As Hart House Theatre gears up for its fast-paced, visually stunning season opener, director Jeremy Hutton reflects on gearing his show to the masses.
“This play was viewed by real crowds,” says Hutton. In it’s original time this included audiences who ate during the play, took bathroom breaks and missed chunks of the performance. “The play is exciting and exhilarating. It draws people in, then punches them in the gut.” But something doesn’t seem right. He couldn’t be describing the same King Lear that you yawned over as a teenager.
Don’t remember that exam? Directly from your copy of Coles Notes, King Lear opens with a British monarch soliciting professions of love from his three daughters to designate his vast kingdom based on their answers. When the youngest child Cordelia fails to falsely flatter her father, she is disowned and banished to France. The King’s regret seeps in almost immediately, beginning his slow descent into turmoil and madness.
While this could make for a confusing, drawn-out show, Hutton isn’t your typical Shakespearian director. Young and energetic, he can be seen promoting Lear in a casual video on YouTube—the ultimate equalizer. Even Peter Higginson, the Hart House veteran starring in the title role, sees the story of Lear as being accessible to a wide audience.
“We’re dealing with corruption of power and influence,” he notes, “which was a serious problem back in Shakespeare’s time and even today.”
But Hutton isn’t overly concerned with themes and lessons. Though several academics and dramaturges were consulted for the production, the director’s focus is on the key actions that move the story forward. Show-goers can look forward to brisk, filmic transitions, as well as powerful visual summaries replacing complicated syntax. As an added bonus, Hutton is set to “reveal” some unexplained details, for instance the fate of the Fool, who disappears from Shakespeare’s text after Act III.
King Lear also marks the first occasion for Hart House Theatre patrons to see the venue’s brand new lobby. The historic renovation fits in well with the show: Lear was last performed at Hart House in the 1950s, in what was presumably a more academic production. Most importantly, though, Hutton promises that Lear, which lasts “under three hours,” will grab you unexpectedly, but keep you rewardingly engaged. Could you have say that much about your high school English teacher?