Friday, 2 May 2014

NTLive - King Lear - Could have done without all the shouting...

Yesterday evening, I went to see the Sam Mendes' National Theatre production of King Lear via NTLive at the cinema. I'd been to see Coriolanus the said same way with my family and we'd decided the format was so good we wanted to see more. If I had seen Lear first, I don't think I would have thought the same thing, but not because of the format.

The format, apart from a couple of camera cock-ups and mic malfunctions, which I can accept for a live production, was stunning as usual. However, the production itself, I thought, although containing some brilliant individual performances, did not quite come up to scratch as a whole for me.

Simon Russell Beale is a great actor, and there were moments of genius, but only moments. He did a very good interpretation of someone suffering from dementia, but unfortunately, I don't think that is what the pace of the play called for, since it flattened out his performance to one level for most of the first half of the play. The first half, for me, was all very shouty and stampey, a lot of remonstration and not much subtlety from Lear. I could not understand how this man had once been respected/feared since I did not even see a shadow of the mighty king in his performance. Unlike Coriolanus, where the camera showed us nuances that we had missed when in the theatre itself, the camera this time, showed up there was no subtlety - well, not in the first half.

However, in the very end of the first half, where Lear has a complete breakdown, and the second half, Simon Russell Beale came into his own - his interpretation of the broken, confused old man was brilliant, and this is where I saw the moments of genius. His talk with Gloucester in the corn field where he finally recognises who he is talking to, the look on his face, the pain as the fog clears and he realises he should have known him sooner, was pure skill. Also, Lear's interaction with Cordelia, his beloved youngest daughter when he came round, still confused and vulnerable, and the moment he recognised her, that was brilliance on the part of both actors.

The out-standing overall performance for me, though, was Adrian Scarborough as The Fool - he echoed the folly and madness of what should have been Lear's descent and he drew me in. Whether his words were bawdy, or poignant, he delivered and, personally, I thought the first half should have ended about half a dozen scenes before it did, on a telling speech from The Fool who is following his broken master to safety out of a storm into a hovel. It was the perfect comment on the mistakes and loss of the first half.

That's not where the first half ended though, and that was something else that underlined the whole performance for me, missed timing. Once the Fool and Lear were following the disguised Kent to the hovel, I began to be surprised by another scene, and another, and another. Admittedly, there was still more drama to come, with the torture of Gloucester and the escape to Dover, but the quick nature of the scenes and the further descent into war, I thought, would have fitted better at the beginning of the second half. But that's just my opinion. Also, there were at least two deaths that had happened before I even noticed what was going on - The Fool's death and Regan's death both missed the beat of the scene in which they took place.

Having said all that, there were some other great performances: Kate Fleetwood as Goneril and Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan, the two eldest daughters of Lear, were hard, cruel and exasperated with their father, but were also very different from each other. Also, Sam Troughton as the treacherous Edmund, Gloucester's bastard son, was the villain we loved to hate. And Tom Brooke came into his own as Edgar, legitimate son of Gloucester, when he hid from pursuers as Tom, the mad beggar.

So, overall, I was a little disappointed by this version of Lear (although I do not have another to compare it to), it could have done with better timing and some more light and shade for Lear in the first half. Some stunning moments/performances, but not a totally coherent production.


  1. I understand exactly what you mean as I went to a pantomine and felt disappointed with some scenes. Overdone in some parts, too little, but good in others. I did get a few smiles still.

  2. That's one of the things I miss most about London - all the shows/theatre that's available. We don't get that as much down here. We have theatre, but it's a mission to attend. Have you seen a performance at The Globe? Just curious since we were thinking of trying to fit one in when we visit in a few months.

    1. No I haven't been to the Globe, but a friend of mine used to volunteer there and it is meant to be spectacular as long as you don't mind standing. :)

  3. Shakespearean plays are always so interesting. So many different ways to interpret the characters. It sounds like you know theater fairly well!

    1. Actually, I've only recently started seeing live theatre on a regular basis - I live in the country and haven't often had the money to get into town to see a West End show, but with NTLive, which broadcasts live from the theatres, my theatre-going experience is rapidly increasing :)

      I've seen some really great Shakespeare of late, Hamlet, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, the next production I'm going to see is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - it'll be quite a change to see a contemporary play. :)


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