William Shakespeare
2 min

Peter Hinton directs an aboriginal King Lear

The media buzz machine is activated: the CBC and underground cultural magazine Guerilla are talking about an upcoming Shakespearean play with an indigenous twist. 

The article in Guerilla, in particular, sheds light on the
risks and challenges of this novel production. Set in
18th-century Algonquin territory, the tragedy will feature an all-indigenous cast (and some members of the public as extras) as they
interpret the themes of land, power, family and tradition. The daring
adaptation of King Lear mixes history and contemporary art in what some
are already calling "a groundbreaking way." The whole thing smells of
Peter Hinton's trademark of eclectically mixing the old and the new to create a unique perspective.

Hinton is a gay man with a CV in alternative and regional theatre
who has spent two terms (seven years) as head of English theatre at the National Arts Centre. He'll
be stepping down in August, having politely turned down an offer for an
additional term. 

Peter Hinton will step down as artistic director of the NAC English Theatre. Photo: Dwayne Brown, NAC.

"I'm just aware of turning 50. The job requires such dedication and
discipline and travel all over this huge country that I've really had to
put my own personal projects aside," he told CBC Wednesday afternoon. He
is proud of what he's accomplished and for good reason. He dares to
mingle different styles and has, I think, created a uniquely Canadian
brand of theatre. 

I've seen a few plays directed by Hinton and
they were always refreshing, even if some have left me perplexed. I
remember his 2010 take on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. The set and
lighting were incredible.

If my memory serves me right, the walls were metallic (like a train station)
and the costumes were edgy, very contemporary. At one point there's a party
and we see Star Wars characters. It was hilarious. The whole time,
Montreal-based actors were speaking in old English with "art thous" on
top of their French accents. A contemporary interpretation of the play with Elizabethan English script left intact
is the kind of eccentric juxtaposition of the old and new I was
referring to earlier.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it's hard to understand. 

In
this production of King Lear, we have the same situation: a
contemporary set and old English with yet another layer for the audience
to absorb, our own history — early colonial Canada. Will it work? As with anything truly original, it might be fantastic or a complete flop.

It all depends on its accessibility to the audience. My fear is it might be too dense.

On
May 8, when it opens, we will see if the history of colonial Canada can be
layered upon one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, which, let's not
forget, was written in old English in the context of the author's
worldview back in 1606. But just because it's layered doesn't mean it's going to be bad; after all,
Shakespeare's plays deal with human nature in general and his insight still
resonates with us today.

Not everyone is open
to the effort it takes to decipher old English, yet I think it's worth a
try. Non-linear art, particularly the layering of themes in theatre, can produce unexpected results that have the power to be authentic, something I personally long for in art. And if it's under the
direction of Peter Hinton, we know at least that it comes from a great
deal of sensitivity and experience.

The play runs at the NAC from May 8 to May 26. 

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