14 June 2014

Poor King Lear at the National Theatre


The last time that I saw King Lear was in 1989 at the Old Vic with Eric Porter (famous as Soames in Forsyte Saga) as Lear. I had high hopes for this version with Simon Russell Beale and the heritage of the National Theatre behind it.That was enough for me to fork out £50 for a seat in the very centre of the Circle of the Olivier Theatre (A43).

I was greeted with the promising view of a dark, brooding and modern looking set with the sun being eclipsed as we took our seats.

Things went wrong very quickly.

It always takes a few minutes to get in to the lilt of Shakespeare's language but then things are normally fine. This time there were a couple of actors who I could hardly understand at all throughout the entire performance and as a result I missed large chunks of the drama and, more importantly, Shakespeare's poetic language.

I've seen enough Shakespeare to know that the fault was not mine and all the overheard conversations at half-time said the same thing. The couple next to me did not come back after the break.

With something wrong as fundamental as the diction there is little point in saying anything about the rest of the show. But I will just to remind myself later of what the other aspects of the performance were like.

The staging was very theatrical with lots of people, things and movement. Some of this I felt was unnecessary, e.g. the ring of tall grass that appeared, and I got the impression that it was there to impress the casual theatre goer rather than to highlight aspects of the drama that theatre regulars may have missed.

Some of the acting was very good and I had no complaints at all about Simon Russell Beale's Lear.

The second half was better and I think that was mostly due to the pace of the drama which was much slower as the various tragedies deepened and with the slower speech came better diction. On its own the second half was fine, even good, but it could not make up for the loss of the first half where all the dark seeds were sown.

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