Anna Maxwell Martin (Regan), Simon Russell Beale (Lear). Photo Mark Douet
There are three things you should know about Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear: it’s modern dress (more about it later), it achieves quite a few revelatory moments in the interpretation of the text (more about them later) and has a brilliant Lear in Simon Russell Beale. Maybe it’s true of King Lear what is true of Hamlet: it’s easier to have a brilliant central performance than having a brilliant production. If Sam Mendes’ King Lear falls short of true greatness, that’s more of an observation than criticism. The experience is rich and the rewards many, and any shortcomings become part of an intensely rich dialogue with the audience.
Simon Russell Beale’s Lear (short, with his head sunk in his body and quite reminiscent of Stalin in Collaborators) starts to show signs of deterioration early on. In the first scene, he has everyone under his thumb, unpleasant, mean, revengeful but his unstable mood picks through already. Did I miss the power of the king? I don’t think so. His bileful behaviour with Goneril in Act I, Scene IV is relentless and stomach-churning but underpinned with the abyss looking back. The moment he catches on – “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven. Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!” – feels like an explosion, it creates a vacuum around him. Continue reading →
Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear, directed by Sam Mendes and heading for the National in 2014, will undoubtedly be the theatre destination for next year. Phrases like “hot ticket” and “eagerly anticipated” are frequently used, but in this case totally justified. The rest of the cast isn’t announced yet, but word is Adrian Scarborough will be Simon Russell Beale’s Fool. Be still my heart, can this be right? Excitement kicks up another notch (if that was possible) and we only have nine months to wait.
In other casting news, Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II starring John Heffernan and directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, will be staged at the National Theatre later in the year, a great opportunity to see the play with one of the most exciting young actors in the title role. (And it will make a nice companion piece to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II starring David Tennant). Again, very little information about the remaining cast but Vanessa Kirby will play Isabella, a sign that things will be very interesting indeed.
Adrian Scarborough as George Tesman and Sheridan Smith as Hedda Gabler. Photo Johan Persson
Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, with Sheridan Smith in the title role, was always destined to be a much talked production: a successful star in a famous and demanding role is catnip for the media: I expect that, come Thursday morning, the headline “Is Sheridan Smith’s Hedda a hit?” will show up in the papers – hopefully in the front page. But theatre isn’t meant to be a test, and without a hint of nervousness or acknowledging the expectations, this production, directed with huge confidence by Anna Mackmin, bypasses the media hype and does what great theatre should do: it’s thrilling, visceral and fresh.
I ‘ll start with the set (designed by Lez Brotherston), partly because it’s the first thing we see: multiple glass panels and huge windows, they create depth but also give out a bottomless feeling, like if someone could fall into this world and never manage to come up for air. First scene, at night, Hedda silently stalks the house like a ghost and admittedly, this made me a bit nervous: I am not a big fan of additional scenes bolted at the beginning of a play, seemingly for the star to appear first. But soon it became clear I had nothing to be nervous about: the production, as well as beautiful to look at (the costumes alone are a marvel), brings this world alive and makes you look at it with fresh eyes. Continue reading →