by William Shakespeare.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 28 May 2014.
7pm 3, 4, 6, 13-15, 17, 21, 22, 24, 28 Feb, 3, 10, 11, 20, 21, 24, 25 March, 11, 17, 21-23, 28-30 April, 1, 6, 8-10, 16, 19, 23, 26-28 May.
Mat 2pm 5, 16, 23 Feb, 1, 2, 12, 22, 23 March, 12, 13, 19 April, 7, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 May.
Audio-described 1 March 2pm (+ Touch Tour 12.15pm), 3 March, 17 May 2pm (+ Touch Tour 12.15pm).
Captioned 23 March, 25 March, 19 May.
performances in Feb and March sold out apart from Day Seats; April and May performances on sale from 14 Feb.
Runs: 3hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 29 January,
Playing it big and brutal.
King Lear is an intimate play about collapse, political and personal. In the National’s new Sam Mendes/Simon Russell Beale production (the two obviously have a strong working relationship, having worked together in New York and London), the scale is monumental, literal and modern.
Jackboots, army combats and helicopters are once again much in evidence. Like Nicholas Hytner’s Henry V and Othello in the Olivier, Mendes’s King Lear is firmly rooted in the war-torn battleground of today. Apocalypse Now is come again as a semi-circular wall of flame leaps up to encircle the back wall as France and England lock horns.
Little is left to the imagination, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, for those seeing the play for the first time, the narrative couldn’t be clearer. Russell Beale’s Lear, uniformed and surrounded by a battalion of soldiery, is clearly a tyrannical ruler who, when his will is thwarted – Cordelia’s refusal to flatter him – resorts to a truly terrifying turn of fury.
This is a man clearly used to getting his own way whose gradual descent into madness or wisdom is plainly, and some might feel bravely, unsentimental. “I am a man more sinned against than sinning” seems for once unconscionable self-pity on Lear’s part.
Eventually Lear’s loss of his dearest daughter does strike the human heart. But Mendes’ brutalism means that humanity in this production comes from other directions, perhaps as it should – from Tom Brooke’s extraordinary Edgar, edging towards Dostoyevskyian The Idiot depths; Adrian Scarborough’s wonderfully musical, bowler-hatted Fool, Stephen Boxer’s Gloucester.
However, for all its epic scale and parallels with contemporary totalitarianism – Sam Troughton’s blonde-haired Edmund is the very essence of fascist opportunism and there is even a totemic statue à la Stalin or Saddam Hussein – Mendes’ approach is alienating. Realism begins to look awfully like cliché when a production is unable or unwilling to venture more into the metaphorical.
Still, the play, as always, triumphs, its basic message of bearing affliction and Edgar’s final words – surely the saddest ever written – seared once more into the soul.
Earl of Kent: Stanley Townsend.
Earl of Gloucester: Stephen Boxer.
Edmund: Sam Troughton.
Lear: Simon Russell Beale.
Goneril: Kate Fleetwood.
Regan: Anna Maxwell Martin.
Cordelia: Olivia Vinall.
Duke of Albany: Richard Clothier.
Duke of Cornwall: Michael Nardone.
King of France: Ross Waiton.
Duke of Burgundy: Paapa Essiedu.
Edgar: Tom Brooke.
Oswald: Simon Manyonda.
The Fool: Adrian Scarborough.
An Officer: Gary Powell.
Curan: Daniel Millar.
Cornwall’s Servant: Jonathan Dryden Taylor.
Old Man: Colin Haigh.
Doctor: Hannah Stokely..
Nurse: Cassie Bradley.
Captain: Ross Waiton.
Saif Al-Warith, Jon Alagoa, Waj Ali, Nathan Ampofo, Paul Anthoney, James S Barnes, Mat Betteridge, Navinder Bhatti, Jonathan Blakeley, Karl Brown, Sebastian Canciglia, Matthew Darcey, Amit Dhut, Noor Dillan-Knight, Dexter Jermaine Flanders, Matt Gardner, Cameron Harris, John Hastings, James Inkson, Kojo Kamara, Owen Lindsay, Rebecca Meyer, Shane Noone, Joseph Ogeleka, Gary Phoenix, Javier Rasero, Anthony Steele, Andrew Thompson, Maxwell Tyler, Grace Willis.
Director: Sam Mendes.
Designer: Anthony Ward.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Music: Paddy Cunneen.
Projections: Jon Driscoll.
Digital Art: Daniel Radley Bennett.
CGI Artist: Bob Walmsey.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Fight director: Terry King.
This production of King Lear opened in the Olivier Theatre London 23 January 2014.