In the title role, Greg Hicks delivers a beautifully spoken and remarkably hale performance. Even as Lear sinks to his lowest --- and most mentally unstable -- this Lear retains a certain physical robustness. Early on, particularly as Hicks' hawk-like Lear bursts into a fury when his youngest daughter Cordelia (played with a steely sweetness by Samantha Young) cannot soar into flights of hyperbole about her love for him, the actor's heartiness is an asset to the production: he's both a frightening ruler and father. But, as the play progresses, Hicks' vigorous portrayal undermines the tragedy, particularly as his given his interpretation of Lear's madness, which often seems overly calculated.
Equally problematic is Tunji Kasim's underwhelming turn as Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester (made pitiably amiable by Geoffrey Freshwater). Edmund should be one of those villains that audiences love to hate, a mixture of smiling villainy and duplicity as he sets plots in motion against his father and his half- brother Edgar (a standout turn from Charles Aitken). In Kasim's one-note performance, though, Edmund's cleverness and ruthlessness are hopelessly dulled.
Neither Kelly Hunter (as Lear's eldest daughter Goneril) nor Katy Stephens (as the middle child Regan) suffer from any sort of undue restraint in their performances. Hunter's turn simply sizzles with an uncontrollable rage that rivets, while Stephens imbues Regan with a seductiveness that makes the character's cruelty all the more chilling.
There's fine work, too, from Darrell D'Silva (as Kent) and Sophie Russell (as Lear's fool), the two characters who accompany Lear on his journey as he's shuttled between the women's houses, and eventually out into the elements. D'Silva combines brusqueness and nobility in his turn as Kent stalwartly stands by Lear. And in Russell's elegantly understated and almost beatific turn, the harsh truths that the character tells Lear seem almost unbearably cutting.
Designer Jon Bausor sets the action in a crumbling industrial interior, overlooked by a pane of broken factory windows where ghosting fluorescent lights hang overheard. The visual portends a gritty, contemporary staging, but instead, Bausor's costumes run a gamut of periods: soldiers are dressed as World War I doughboys while other characters seems to have stepped out of the early 19th Century.
And as the visuals confuse, Christopher Shutt's soundscape underscores the action to an annoying degree; there are times when the electronic whirrs and motorized rumblings terrifically enhance the show, but more often than not, they only serve to distract from the text and make one wonder about Farr's reasoning behind the opaquely conceived production.