Sunday 22 June 2014

King Lear, National Theatre Live

Fancy Shakespeare at the cinema, with all the goodness of a live performance? I recently enjoyed King Lear down at my local Vue, all thanks to National Theatre Live.

Lear is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, and tells the story of the King and his daughters. At the height of his powerful reign, Lear asks all three girls to tell him how much they love him, and that whoever can prove their love is the greatest will be rewarded the highest. Goneril and Regan battle to outdo each other but when he turns to his youngest and favourite daughter Cordelia she refuses to take part, saying her love cannot be measured and described in such a way. Lear is outraged and Cordelia is disowned and banished. In the years that follow loyalties will be tested as Lear ages and his dominance begins to crumble.

Directed by Sam Mendes, King Lear was performed by some great talent. Simon Russell Beale took the title role with support from a cast that included Anna Maxwell Martin, Adrian Scarborough and Stanley Townsend - all familiar faces of British stages and screens. On the 1st May, whilst they were performing live at the National Theatre, the production was being streamed and shown in cinemas nationwide. Sadly we didn’t make it on the night, but caught it a few weeks later when it was re-broadcast. It was an amazing experience, as you’re witnessing the prop changes and staging of the theatre, with the close-ups and camera angles of film. Also during the interval, we sat watching the live theatre audience in real-time, getting their ice creams and popping to the loo, but then after our break, we had a short series of interviews from Mendes and the cast.

It goes without saying that the cast were superb, all completely capable of taking on a Shakespearean classic, but Simon Russell Beale was simply mesmerising, in a role that has you loathing him one second and full of sympathy the next. In the emotional rollercoaster that is King Lear, it’s no wonder that he is a two-time Olivier Award winner and has been described as the greatest stage actor of his generation. A play with such dark themes and a truly gruesome end hugely suited Mendes’ modern, industrial staging, and it also made it that bit easier to follow (which I have to say, I welcome!).

Sadly, Lear is now longer on at cinemas but you can see it live at the National until 2nd July. However I’d highly recommend NT Live performances for a fun night out, as well as a more affordable alternative.

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