Director: Sam Mendes
So we went to the cinema on Thursday and saw the ntlive broadcast of King Lear. I wasn't blown away.
I'm not saying it was a bad production, there were moments of brilliance, I just didn't think it was amazing. The versions of Hamlet, Macbeth and Coriolanus I've seen in London have all had me raving about how wonderful they are, but, unfortunately, not King Lear.
Looking at the whole thing I think it stems very simply from one cause: as we were told in the interval presentation, Simon Russell Beale was trying to portray Lear as a man suffering from the early stages of a form of dementia. He did that fantastically; he's a superb actor - I just don't think it was the right decision for the play. It lead to a complete lack of subtly throughout the whole first half and it didn't gel for me.
We were also told in the interval presentation that they were trying to present Lear in the first scene as a dictator surrounded by yes men where Cordelia is the only person willing to not flatter him. Because of the use of the dementia angle, I don't think that came across at all well - in fact I didn't realise that's what they were going for until the interval presentation told me. There was no glimpse of the strong, respected man who was feared, at least, not for me. I really got nothing from the first scene, which was a problem because it's the set up for the rest of the play.
Then there was where they actually put the interval. It's not a good sign when every time there is a new scene I was going, 'oh god, not another one'.
I can always tell when a play has me riveted because I don't notice how I am sitting. During Coriolanus, for example, my behind went completely numb because I barely moved, same with James McAvoy's Macbeth and that was probably the most uncomfortable theatre I have ever been in. During King Lear I was fidgeting because I was uncomfortable and Cinewold has quite comfortable seats in comparison to most London theatres.
However, that said, some of the individual performances were superb, even if I don't think they came together as a cohesive unit.
Simon Russell Beale gave a fantastic performance; he hit the nail on the head for what he was going for. The man is outstanding. In the second half he shone. The moment when he is sitting with Gloucester in the corn field and he finally recognises him was simply amazing. I just wish the first half hadn't been all shouting and ranting and had had the same contrasts as the second half.
Then there was Sam Troughton as Edmund and I thought he was one of the highlights of the first half. The way when he was pretending to be good he wore his glasses, but when he was monologuing to the audience about his nefarious plans he took his glasses off was superb. He was good all the way through, but his early scenes were simply brilliant.
Then we have Kate Fleetwood as Goneril and Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan who were fantastic in several of their scenes. I felt sorry for Goneril when she was trying to deal with Lear to begin with, even if she did go about it entirely the wrong way. I never felt sorry for Regan, however, which was a nice contrast; she was always conniving.
The scene that stands out for Goneril for me was the one where she was with Edmund and it was as if his attentions freed her (not a good thing as it turns out :)). There was a lovely visual cue with her skirt, where when she was with Edmund it was unzipped to the thigh and when her husband appeared she zipped it back up again. Kate Fleetwood played it perfectly.
For Regan the best scene was by far the blinding of Gloucester. She always had something of the sociopath about her, with the way she flirts with her own father for a start, but in that scene we finally saw the reality of how vindictive she actually is. The way Anna Maxwell Martin just kind of devolved in the scene was superb.
Another fantastic performance, possibly the most outstanding one in the play actually, has to be Adrian Scarborough as the Fool. The nuances of his character and how he delivered his lines were brilliant. I really wish Shakespeare hadn't killed off the Fool mid play :).
Then the final mention goes to Tom Brooke as Edgar for when he was pretending to be Mad Tom. For starters anyone who can play naked in front of that many people and deliver their lines that well deserves a medal and secondly he has a very nice body ;).
So, as you can see, I really did like parts of the play. The problem was the moments of genius mostly seemed to be individual to me and the whole thing didn't come together. There was also no contrasts during the first half and so my brain eventually had enough and stopped really caring.
There were also scenes that got lost for me. When the Fool is killed by Lear my brain went 'oh' and I'm pretty sure there should have been more shock than that. Then in the final scenes I had no idea Regan had been poisoned until she rolled under the table and stopped moving. I did not get what was happening until it was completely over. I thought she was throwing a tantrum or something until she didn't get up.
I know for a fact other people totally don't agree with me :) because we met one lady in Morrisons the next day who we had bumped into on the way in to King Lear and she thought it was an amazing production. Her husband, however, seemed to be of the same opinion as we were.
I really wanted to enjoy this play; it's one I hadn't seen before, but it fell short for me. On the one hand the director, Sam Mendes, seemed to have had some great ideas, and on the other some that caused a complete lack of subtlety.