King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s great roles, especially for a more how shall I say this ‘established’ actor. It has been played by many of the greats – Oliver, Gielgud, McKellen to name but a few and now it is Simon Russell Beale’s turn to don the crown and divide the Kingdom.
I was kindly taken along with Mrs #1PG by the Matriarch, she is a theatre buff (ex-actress, turned multi-award winning AmDram lady) and we always enjoy our theatre trips together good or bad. In fact, I might persuade her to write a review or two for the code. I digress, apologies.
This marks his 7th Shakespeare play with the successful and talented Sam Mendes, it is a partnership that has spanned 23 years and brought forth some truly astounding plays from the pair of them.
King Lear tells the tale of the tragedy of a King with 3 daughters to whom he is dividing his kingdom, but falls foul of his vanity and some of his daughters cruelty and eventually Lear ends up mad and tragedy further ensues.
This a quasi-modern setting for this version of the tale with certain 30s overtones in the style of costume and the staging, which was excellent, was stark and angular.
Simon Russell Beale is, as you would expect in an actor of his caliber, very good in his portrayal of Lear, but for me it was not great. I think maybe I had too high hopes. Both the Matriarch and I were a little confused at his physical embodiment of Lear as stooped and shuffling.
The rest of the cast were mostly very good, though at times a couple of the actors we all could not hear. Some stand out roles were Stanley Townsend’s bluff and loyal Kent; Adrian Scarborough’s delicate and wise Fool; Stephen Boxer is an eloquent and emotional Gloucester. For the three daughters – Kate Fleetwood’s villainous Goneril stalks the stage, whereas Anna Maxwell Martin stalks the men and Olivia Vinall brings softness to the staging.
Though for a play with the talents that it in it’s mix, we left the theatre a little underwhelmed. The Matriarch a great fan of Simon Russell Beale, was silent for a time. It was not one we shall talk about for weeks afterwards like other plays we have seen by this great duo, though it is worthy of being seen.