Sam Mendes directs Simon Russell Beale's 'extraordinary' Lear
Sam Mendes' production of King Lear starring Simon Russell Beale opened at the NT Olivier last night (23 January 2014)
…Because of the scale and space in the Olivier, you really do feel that everyone is on a journey in this play, and these are plotted by director Sam Mendes with elegant, intelligent precision: Anna Maxwell Martin's Regan goes from girlish sycophancy… to gruesome sadist in the terrifying blinding of Gloucester, to fur-clad power-drunk adulterer... Sam Troughton's suited, bespectacled Edmund… is a sofa-bound political schemer sucked into physical action; while his true-hearted half-brother Edgar, wildly and mesmerizingly played by Tom Brooke, covered in grimy tattoos, fully exposed, nether bits dangling, wrings out all sentimentality... this is the most completely satisfying version of the play in a long while, full of piercing insights in the murk, not least from Stanley Townsend's powerful, superbly spoken Kent…
…it is quite exceptional… you feel the director, Sam Mendes, and the Lear, Simon Russell Beale, are working with everyone else to explore every nook and cranny of the play… Russell Beale's extraordinary Lear… Sam Troughton's Edmund hides his villainy under a mask of scholarly respectability and Tom Brooke does all he can with the near-unplayable Edgar… Kate Fleetwood's quietly venomous Goneril is also perfectly contrasted with Anna Maxwell Martin's extrovert and hysterically cruel Regan. Slightly fussy staging makes the play's ending less moving than I have known it. But this is a small blot on a production that is well designed by Anthony Ward … There are times when I feel that Lear is a play that has to be endured as much as enjoyed.
…The production is on an epic scale and often thrilling to look at but there are moments when Mendes seems to me to make some uncharacteristic errors of judgement… Russell Beale… movingly captures Lear's terrified intimations of madness. His insanity is often harrowing to watch and his final scenes… are beautifully achieved. The wicked sisters are terrific too, with Kate Fleetwood a tense ruthless Goneril while Anna Maxwell Martin plays Regan as a sex kitten turned on by torture. There is superb work too from Stephen Boxer, deeply moving as the blinded Gloucester, Sam Troughton as a memorably creepy Edmund, and Tom Brooke who makes goodness interesting as Edgar…
Simon Russell Beale is one of our greatest actors. And here as Shakespeare's frail and angry monarch, broken by his own capricious nature, he is the best I have ever seen him... As Lear's eldest daughter Goneril, Kate Fleetwood is icily severe. As her more artful sister Regan, Anna Maxwell Martin is feline and provocative, and Olivia Vinall is affecting as Cordelia, the youngest of the three… Stephen Boxer is a fine, delicate Gloucester, Tom Brooke brings an interesting mix of innocence and animal energy to his son Edgar, and Sam Troughton as the illegitimate Edmund is a ghoulish bureaucrat… Stanley Townsend's excellent Kent is a model of gruff resilience, while Adrian Scarborough's Fool is a dry street artist who occasionally strikes a note of poignant desperation... This is a complex and potent account of a play that never ceases to appall and astonish.
Simon Russell Beale was not gushing when he described Sam Mendes as his "professional soulmate"… this production was well worth the wait. Staged in the vast Olivier, it's a powerfully searching account of the tragedy… Adrian Scarborough's excellent Fool… Russell Beale can break your heart with the mad Lear's sudden moments of piercing clarity but his superb portrayal of man who discovers the folly of a life predicated on power rather than love remains turbulent with complexities and contradictions… There are one or two misjudgements… But the production is, for the most part, thrillingly well-played – especially by Anna Maxwell Martin… and by the luminous Tom Brooke who brings out the naïve, improvisatory nature of the way Edgar plays Providence in his father's life. Strongly recommended.