I’m going to talk about King Lear. Don’t know it? Here’s a plot. King Lear’s a king with a kingdom. He’s old and knows he’s old so decides to split the stuff and land amongst his three daughters. He asks each daughter how much they love him. Two flatter, one tells the truth and is outcast. King goes mad. He realises how foolish he was. In the end, everybody’s dead: classic Shakespearean tragedy.
This production was at the National Theatre but I watched it at an Odeon. It starred King of the Olivier; Simon Russell Beale, who was on the same stage this time two years ago as the title character in Timon of Athens. King Lear was directed by Sam Mendes and was three hours and twenty five minutes long. The first act was two hours. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying. Alright, it’s a slight complaint. My bum was numb and I was out of ice cream. The Boy told me I couldn’t have ice cream whilst watching Shakespeare but he’s not the boss of me.
This production had a modern feel, giving the impression of a dictator and country rather than a king and his kingdom. Simon Russell Beale may not strike you as a menacing figure, but when he is surrounded by solider and makes him own daughters cower and speechless, you know he’s a gentlemen not to be crossed. Lear is a sought after role for his range, the feared to the frightened. Simon Russell Beale’s performance was well researched and contained such depth; it was almost a joy to watch his decent.
Lear’s headaches, otherwise known as his daughters are: Kate Fleetwood as the head strong Goneril, Anna Maxwell Martin as the stubborn, sexual Regan and Olivia Vinall as the honest and underestimated Cordelia. With a big production like this with a big star, the supporting cast can often be forgotten. Not here, not with Mendes. Despite the presence of royalty, every actor on that stage was equal.
Like with most Shakespeare, I had no idea what was being said but I knew what was happening. It’s strange how that can happen. Only with Shakespeare! I’m starting to appreciate his writing again. I have had bad experiences. I think I say this every time I see and review Shakespeare but seeing it done well is a whole different kettle of fish.