Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Scoot Wentworth as Gloucester and Colm Feore as King Lear. Photo David Hou

Reviewed by James Karas

The much-touted 2014 production of King Lear at the Stratford Festival has been brought to movie theatres in a move that deserves great praise. Antoni Cimolino directed Colm Feore and a fine cast. The question is how does it look on the big screen compared to live on stage.

When a play is recorded for the movie theatre, control of its content passes from the stage director to the big screen director. In this case it is Joan Tomosini. The advantage and disadvantage of a taped stage production is the close-ups.

On the plus side we get shots of facial expressions and views of the set that we are highly unlikely to see during a live performance. On the minus side, unless the video director is sensitive to keeping as much of the live performance as possible for the movie theatre audience, the result is guaranteed to range from the mildly annoying to the atrocious.

Tomisini is dedicated to giving us close-ups of the characters’ faces. The occasional close-up is acceptable because we do want to see Cordelia’s reaction on being disinherited and Lear’s agony when he sees her dead.

But if you concentrate on close-ups you sacrifice the context of the scene. When one character is speaking, there is a set and other characters that are reacting to him/her. On a huge screen we can see their faces sufficiently well not to require the camera to zero in on their faces so closely that we can count their wrinkles.

I found Feore lacking in depth and breadth in the live performance. Viewing him in the movie theatre did not change my opinion but there were several scenes where I found his acting very moving. The rest of the cast is praiseworthy on the screen as it was live at Stratford.

There were a few issues that Cineplex may wish to deal with. During the first half of the show the sound level was so deafeningly high, it was as if one were attending a shouting match. After the intermission the volume was either lowered or my hearing had been impaired to the point where everything sounded fine.

Perhaps we have been spoiled by broadcasts from England’s National Theatre, but an introduction to the production and a comments about the Stratford Festival would have been welcome. Bloody good advertising, as well.

A cast sheet is not a bad idea. They may not give such sheets for a movie but the people who go to the theatre are used to getting some information. Those who saw King Lear in the movie theatre did not necessarily see it at Stratford as well.

The good news is that Stratford Festival HD, as they christened it, seems to be on the way to showing other productions – many, I hope, in the future. Shakespeare’s King John and Antony and Cleopatra are scheduled for April and May, 2015. We are with Oliver Twist on this point – we want more.   

King Lear by William Shakespeare was shown on February 19, 2015 at the Cineplex VIP Don Mills Shops at Don Mills, 12 Marie Labatte Road, Toronto Ontario M3C 0H9 and other theatres. It will be shown again on March 7 and March 22, 2015. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events

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