King Lear – Nothing will come of nothing

Dear reader,

yes I am a self-confessed Shakespeare fan. That certainly became clear in the review of the Coriolanus production of the Donmar Warehouse. Last week I was able to witness another live broadcast from London. It was, as the title may have already revealed, „King Lear“ and that the National Theatre. The directing was taken by Sam Mendes, who was responsible for movies like American Beauty and Skyfall. You can therefore imagine that my bar of expectations was very high. And I was not disappointed.

King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) and the Fool (Adrian Scarborough). Photo: Mark Douet.
King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) and the Fool (Adrian Scarborough).
Photo: Mark Douet.

King Lear is a drama about an aging king who wants his kingdom devided among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (great played by Kate Fleetwood, Anna Maxwell Martin and Olivia Vinall). He organized kind of a love test, in which each of the young women had to describe their love for him. In the contrary to all expectations, however, it was not his favorite daughter Cordelia who won this competition. Unlike her sisters, she did not flatter her father just to get a bigger slice of the cake. For her sincerity, she found nothing but banishment. The Earl of Kent (Stanley Townsend scintillated here), the most faithful adviser to the king showed criticism in this decision and shares the fate of the princess. At this point, right at the beginning of the play, it becomes clear that Lear may not necessarily make the best judgments.

King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) and Edgar (Tom Brooke) Photo: Mark Douet
King Lear (Simon Russell Beale) and Edgar (Tom Brooke)
Photo: Mark Douet

Of his remaining daughters Goneril and Regan, the king expects nothing more than that they finance him of his remaining life and grant him 100 knights for his protection . The two women are , however, to quickly agree to get rid of their father. The former king falls deeper and deeper, while around him an intrigue after another unfolds. The audience has trouble to follow if it was (even just for a moment) not focused. However, this does not detract from the enjoyment, but motivates (in my opinion) to look more closely and listen. Indeed, it is a true joy to see Simon Russell Beale breathes life to the slowly into madness decaying king. The precision with which he repeatedly changed little things in his play to usher the different stages is impressive. Here’s a nervous twitch of the hand , there a tiny head movement. „Less is more“. The same applies to Tom Brooke, who presents us in a subplot (which grows up to be a bona fide intrigue ) the slightly autistic acting Edgar of Gloucester . He, too, suffers the fate of an outcast, which further decays his mind. Like Beale, Brooke is able to create this transition subtle and yet clearly . I was thrilled. Also from the ease with which he overcame a mishap. Naked and with nothing more than a piece of cloth covering his genitals he was on stage. The more he played himself into a rage , the harder it was for him to keep the cloth in place. When he made an extravagant gesture and dropped thus his last cover, we only got a „Well, that was cold … “ in an role appropriate tone.

This production again was on the highest level, of which I have unfortunately seen rather few in Germany. A pity really.

Sincerely yours,
Theatergeist

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