Review: Lear (Groundling Theatre Company)

Photo from LearGrounding Theatre Company gives The Bard’s classic a feminist twist, on stage in Toronto

I literally said “Yowza!” when the volunteer usher handing me my program at the Harbourfront Centre told me that Groundling Theatre Company’s production of Lear is three hours long. However, I’m happy to report that the old adage holds true and time does fly when you’re having fun. When this stunning production ends you are left wanting more.

Lear (Seana McKenna) is the tragedy of Queen Lear (yep, Queen!) who divides her kingdom amongst her two daughters Regan (Diana Donnelly) and Goneril (Deborah Hay), following their protestations of love for her, and disinherits her youngest daughter Cordelia (Mercedes Morris) after she refuses to follow suit. It is not long before Regan and Goneril start undermining their mother by refusing to host her retinue of knights in a concerted effort to make a power grab. Without shelter, humiliated and consumed by guilt over her treatment of her favourite child Cordelia, Lear spirals into madness.

I find that Shakespeare can be very dull and dated when he is put on a pedestal. However, this production is vibrant and visceral. For one thing, it boasts of live music, which my guest for the evening, Marwa, absolutely adored. To her, the drums playing as Lear and his small band wander in the storm makes her feel like she’s there with them in the tempest.

The fight scenes are engaging and not cheesy in the slightest. I realized I had been covering my mouth with both hands when the Earl of Gloucester (Jim Mezon) was being held down and having his eyes bloodily gouged out by the Duke of Cornwall (Alex Poch-Goldin).

The set is very simple consisting of wood blocks shifted around to accommodate different settings. While I appreciate the theatre in the round aspect of the staging, I didn’t find that the set reflected where the action is supposed to be taking place. I find it slightly distracting that the characters are constantly moving these blocks when they don’t serve to designate location or add to the action. Still, you are able to figure that out with the help of the dialogue.

The costumes are a mixture of period pieces and modern clothing making it difficult to determine the era in which the play set. Marwa did say that she likes the fact that they make the play more relatable by grounding it in a more modern (if unspecified) era.

McKenna’s incomparable portrayal of Lear, whose transformation from the willful and stubborn queen to the frail and vulnerable grief-stricken woman howling over Cordelia’s death has the power to break your heart.

I find that this play is so much more dynamic and layered when the lead is played by a woman. We get to see a character who has the capacity to be equally a loyalty-inspiring beloved ruler hunting with her knights, a tender-hearted mother, and a woman who seems determined to go on regardless of how dire circumstances get.

My favourite character is Edmund (Alex McCooeye), the “base-born” son of the Earl of Gloucester who conspires to claim his brother’s title and fortune. McCooeye is an infinitely likable villain who brings humor and humanity to the role and you can’t help but root a little for the dastardly (yes, I’m going to go with dastardly, it is a review of a Shakespearean play after all) Edmund.

All in all, this show was a treat.


  • Lear is playing until January 28, 2018 at Harboufront Centre (235 Queens Quay W.)
  • Tickets prices vary depending on show date; Tues–Thurs shows: $59 / $49 / $39; Fri–Sun shows: $69 / $59 / $49; arts workers and rush tickets are $25.
  • Performances run Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm with and added 2 pm matinee on weekends.
  • Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (416) 973-4000 ext. 1

Photo of Seana McKenna and Jim Mezon by Michael Cooper.

2 thoughts on “Review: Lear (Groundling Theatre Company)”

  1. Hi Jeff, while Colin Mochrie gave an enjoyable performance, Lear has a large cast, all of whom did an extremely good job. As I’m working with a finite word count I could not, unfortunaley, dwell on the performance given by each actor. So, I chose to only mention my two favourite actors whom I personally felt gave outstanding performances.

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