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Sam Mendes takes on Shakespeare’s King Lear

Anna Maxwell Martin – Regan, Simon Russell Beale Photo by Mark Douet

Dan English takes a break from being Sports Editor to review the National Theatre’s production of King Lear, directed by the Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes.

If there is one stage version of King Lear that you should go and see, it should probably be this one.

Simon Russell Beale and blockbuster director Sam Mendes have teamed up once again to star in and direct one of Shakespeare’s most famous and brutal plays, and this is a magnificent production at London’s National Theatre.

Set in a utopian world, Russell Beale stars as the dictatorial Lear who divides up his kingdom based on how much his daughters love him. This flattery gets him nowhere, however, as his daughters deceive and manipulate him, in order to get the biggest share of the kingdom.

All but one daughter, that is, as Cordelia, played by the superb rising National Theatre star Olivia Vinall, refuses to declare her love for her father in the extravagant ways her sisters do, thus earning herself exile. As Lear descends into his madness, Russell Beale really comes into his own. His delivery is extraordinary, and his removal of his royal clothing, performing the second half in his underwear, was an aesthetic choice which hit home the idea visually that the King had truly gone mad.

Perhaps one fault of the play was the disjointedness of Mendes’ direction; something quite uncharacteristic for the superstar director, whose West End credits include Shrek the Musical and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

There seemed to be conflicting styles throughout the play, particularly when Lear is elevated above the audience, but all in all, both actor and director have created a masterpiece for the audience to enjoy. The blinding scene of Gloucester was particularly brutal viewing, with the wonderful stagecraft and prosthetics making the audience wince.

Don’t just take my word for it, go and see the show now. If you can’t, there’s good news as it is coming to the Gulbenkian as part of the National Theatre Live’s (NTL’s) cinema broadcasting scheme, on Thursday 1st May and Sunday 4th May, so you have no excuse!



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