The final production of this year’s National Arts Centre English Theatre season is Shakespeare’s King Lear. But it’s not just any King Lear; it is King Lear with an all-Aboriginal cast—the culmination of an idea actor August Schellenberg and the late director John Juliani had forty-five years ago – and, on top of that, Aboriginal costumes and setting – presumably the choice of director Peter Hinton. It’s not unusual for Shakespeare’s plays to be re-set in different periods and locales (in fact, these days it’s almost the norm), but there’s usually a reason for doing so. Is this, then, an Aboriginal King Lear? No. That would be grossly inaccurate. It is, rather, merely an Aboriginal-flavoured King Lear.
King Lear is Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy next to Hamlet. As he realizes old age is taking its toll on his capacity to rule, Lear (August Schellenberg) decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters Goneril (Monique Mojica), Regan (Tantoo Cardinal), and Cordelia (Jani Lauzon), and abdicate to spend the final years of his life in rest and ease. Unfortunately, he lets vanity and pride determine the division of his estate, and leaves himself powerless, at the whim of his two greedy and ambitious eldest daughters. As in all Shakespeare, when a King makes a Bad Decision, everyone suffers for it.