King Lear**** (National Theatre Olivier, 23 February 2014)

Posted: February 23, 2014 in Theatre

XU*5860596After a recent run of seeing Shakespeare scaled down to be performed above pubs and such places, this marks a return to the traditional – arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of the age performing on our grandest stage under the guidance of one of the World’s most accomplished stage and cinema directors. So, enjoyable as the smaller productions were, this is most definitely Shakespeare Max. Sam Mendes’ modern dress production is mounted superbly. using every inch of the Olivier’s huge stage and recounting with painful clarity the story of ageing, dementia and inheritance. Simon Russell Beale is nowhere near being an octogenarian. but he manages to look 80 with his stooping demeanour, fidgeting hands and grizzled visage, until he exits through the audience and ruins the illusion by racing up the stairs of the darkened stalls. As he stands beneath a statue of his younger self, towering to more than twice his real height, the ravages of age are captured in a single image. Russell Beale is an actor who is never afraid to have himself made to look ridiculous, which is a vital quality, because there is no character in English drama who cuts a more ridiculous figure than that of Lear for much of this play. However, his Lear is also a man of power and authority, albeit diminished in body and mind. Tom Brooke is an unorthodox but wonderfully moving Edgar and the ever reliable Adrian Scarborough makes the perfect Fool. Of the daughters, Kate Fleetwood is an icy Goneril and Olivia Vinall a sweet and sincere Cordelia. As Regan, Anna Maxwell Martin is ruthless and volatile, playing very much against the image created by her most famous television roles; however, at this performance seen from half way back in the stalls, her diction, intonation and voice projection all seemed weak. Maybe because expectations were set too high, this production feels less than monumental, but, nonetheless, it is extremely impressive.

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