Review: King Lear (starring Simon Russell Beale) at the National Theatre, Olivier stage

Anna Maxwell Martin (Regan), Simon Russell Beale (Lear). Photo Mark Douet

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

Review: Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore, at Hampstead Theatre

di&viv&roseposterSome plays are like old friends. They don’t try to dazzle you, or overwhelm you. They get under your skin tenderly and quietly. They tease memories and melodies. Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose, as directed by Anna Mackmin for the Hampstead theatre, is such a play.

Which is not to say it is quiet or timid. The story starts with three young women experiencing university life for the first time. And no teenage girl has ever been quiet. The production is full of noise and music and late night energy. It talks about the truths – true loves, true laughter, true fights – we discover when we let our guard down.

The play impresses with its simplicity. Three women meet, become friends, laugh a lot, spend the next twenty years shaping each other’s lives. And then you realise the play is a rarity: Continue reading

Casting news: David Tennant in Richard II, Paul Ritter in The Audience and more

David Tennant as Hamlet. 2008. Photo Ellie Kurttz

Let’s take a moment to savour this: David Tennant as Richard II directed by Greg Doran. There have been rumours for a while but lately the discussion has been louder and it seems it will happen: David Tennant will play Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company some time in late 2013 or early 2014, under the direction of Greg Doran in the new artistic director’s first season. David Tennant is in no small part responsible for my theatre obsession the last few years and my excitement for this news is unfettered. I will be clearly spending the next eighteen months dreaming of the Deposition Scene and who will play Bolingbroke. Chiwetel Ejiofor is my choice. It’s perfect and it needs to happen. Continue reading