The production was wonderful. Simon Russell Beale played Lear as a sort of military dictator displaying the onset of Lewy Body Dementia – a particular type of dementia that fits Lear’s changing moods and confusion perfectly, and he added other symptoms of a hunched posture, shuffling gait etc. in too. (This was explained in the interval talk, something the cinema goers get instead of the rush to get a G&T at the bar).
Beale is quite my favourite actor on stage. Over the years I’ve seen him in so many productions – from Jonson’s Volpone to Chekov’s Seagull and as an unusual Ariel in The Tempest – all for the National or RSC. One production I particularly remembered last night was Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the NT in which his partner was Adrian Scarborough – who plays the Fool in Lear. They obviously had a great chemistry, so it was a real shock when a mad Lear turned from acting a clown to bludgeon the Fool to death.
The daughters were all wonderful. Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan was postively psychotic and Kate Fleetwood as Goneril was scheming and manipulative. Sam Troughton (keeping the Troughton acting dynasty going) as Edmund was all flashing eyes and totally self-centred. Gloucester’s torture by Regan and Cornwall was stomach-churning as he had his eyes gouged out with a corkscrew in his own wine-cellar. In fact all of the acting was first class, and was topped off by the huge cast of extras representing Lear’s hundred knights.
It was my third Lear (fourth if you include Ian Holm’s one on the TV) – I first saw it at The Old Vic directed by Jonathan Miller back in 1989 with Eric Porter as Lear and Gemma Jones and Frances de la Tour as Goneril and Regan. Next I saw Adrian Noble’s triumphant production at the RSC in 1993 which won huge plaudits for its star Robert Stephens (and when I looked it up, I found that a younger S R Beale played the virtually unplayable Edgar).
It was wonderful theatre, but every time I see Lear I realise that it is not my favourite Shakespeare play at all. (Much Ado about Nothing and Hamlet get my vote for that). How could Gloucester fall for Edmund’s lies? Why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself to his father in the forest? All the little linky scenes with messengers bringing messages or being intercepted with messages irritate me, and why do we never hear what happened to the mothers? – of the three daughters and Gloucester’s sons.
As always, the cameras caught the action wonderfully. It is an added bonus to get the close-ups of the actors’ faces. I love these cinema screenings, they’re affordable, and with the interval you can pop out and get an ice-cream if you wish, and the audience will always be quiet and appreciative – although there were too many distracting latecomers last night for my liking! Harumph!
There will be encore screenings of King Lear later in the month. Visit NT Live to find out details.
What is your relationship with King Lear?
Which is your favourite Shakespeare tragedy?
Do you go to these live screenings?