Facing the end of his life, King Lear decides to divide his realm between his three daughters. Unlike her elder sisters Goneril and Regan, Cordelia refuses to overstate her love for their father. Infuriated by Cordelia's honesty, Lear disinherits her. The Earl of Kent intercedes on her behalf but only angers Lear further and is banished. The King of France agrees to marry Cordelia and whisks her away. The Earl of Gloucester is faced with his own family problems in the form of rivalry between his legitimate son Edgar and his bastard son Edmund. Edmund plots to become his father's lawful heir by portraying his brother as a traitor. His plot succeeds; Edgar is forced to flee for his life in the guise of a mad beggar. Goneril and Regan soon begin to resent caring for their father and demand that he dismiss his retinue. He refuses and is left to wander outdoors, crazed by his daughters' betrayals and accompanied only by his fool and the disguised Earl of Kent. Meanwhile, the scheming Edmund exposes his father Gloucester as a traitor and gains his title. The old man is brutally blinded and led into the wilderness. As Edmund rises to power, Goneril and Regan enter into a bitter competition for his affection. When Cordelia learns how her sisters have abandoned their father she marshals an army and sets sail for England. Edgar and his father are reunited and Kent arranges for Lear to be brought to Cordelia's camp. The two reconcile and, with the French Army, face Goneril, Regan and Edmund's forces to decide the future of the kingdom.
In director Liz Huddle's words, King Lear is "a magnificent teaching fable" with symbolic characters living in the world of a pre-Christian morality play. Her production is reminiscent of Story Theatre: actors enter, put on a few simple costume pieces, and use their imaginations--and ours--to bring Shakespeare's poetry to life. Huddle envisions Lear's madness as a percussive storm blown from eternity. It erupts not to punish him but to prepare him for a spiritual redemption we all can share. The story will be told on a simple yet dynamic set that designer Joe Varga characterizes as a re-configured Elizabethan stage. Inspired by sculptor Gillian Jagger's Spiral, Varga creates a fragmented world of earthy textures. Composed of ramps, platforms and flats, his design is versatile, flexible and honed to the essentials. Very few props will be used, only those absolutely necessary to bring this tale to life. Costume designer Anne Watson supports Huddle's vision with simple yet elegant clothing that can be quickly layered to create new looks. While her designs are suggestive of the Elizabethan age, they intentionally conform to no single historical period and always contain a touch of modernity. Director Liz Huddle and her collaborators invite audiences to enter the beautiful world of Shakespeare's poetry, lose themselves in the fable, and leave knowing it was only a fairy tale.