King Lear is a bleak play whose main theme is the breakdown of relationships between fathers and their children, as well as an exploration of duty and the convention of patronage. I’ll admit it’s not my favourite play – there’s a bit too much madness and shouting, and too little comic relief to make watching it actually enjoyable – but I appreciate what Shakespeare managed to achieve with it.
NTLive’s production of King Lear stars the highly respected Shakespearean actor, Simon Russell Beale, and he is, as usual, on top form here. He is on stage with Stephen Boxer as Gloucester, Kate Fleetwood as Goneril, Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan, and Olivia Vinall as Cordelia. Sam Troughton plays the villainous Edmund and Tom Brooke, Edgar.
The staging for this production is modern, with Simon Russell Beale as a dictator-style King Lear, who is suffering from the early stages of dementia. He has moments of lucidity mixed with ones of uncontrollable rage, frustration and incomprehension. From the several versions of the play I have seen this is a fairly common approach to take to Lear, and Beale plays it very convincingly. Shakespeare set King Lear in a pagan Britain, and the modern staging is neither intrusive nor particularly relevant to this production. There is a minimal use of microphones in the opening scenes of the play to date it, and Lear’s retinue are dressed as mercenaries, but other than that the period seems unimportant.
Regarding casting, on the whole, the choices seemed very good, with one notable exception. I hate to write this, because I have seen some of her television work and she has always been very good, but in King Lear, Anna Maxwell Martin just seems miscast. She plays her Regan as a coquette with a sadistic streak, revelling in the torture exacted on Gloucester but acting like a sex kitten the rest of the time, and trying too hard to be sexy. I just found her rather unconvincing in the role.
All in all, an ‘okay’ production and certainly worth the money I paid to see it at the cinema, but it has convinced me that I don’t need to see Lear on stage again. Once has been enough.
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