Photo credit: Mark Douet
Simon Russell Beale – King Lear, Adrian Scarborough - The Fool
Adrian Scarborough - The Fool
Anna Maxwell Martin – Regan, Simon Russell Beale – King Lear
Kate Fleetwood – Goneril, Anna Maxwell Martin – Regan, Simon Russell Beale – King Lear
Kate Fleetwood – Goneril, Anna Maxwell Martin – Regan
Kate Fleetwood – Goneril, Sam Troughton - Edmund
THEY say power corrupts and in Sam Mendes' terrific production of King Lear at the National's Olivier stage, this can be seen very clearly.
The central themes of the play - love, power, greed, control and madness - are brilliantly conveyed in this production which has been brought up to date by giving it a modern day setting.
Set against a granite coloured backdrop with dark clouds racing across a grey sky it starts with a bang as Lear marches into his enormous room with a huge entourage, to divide up his Kingdom.
Sitting with his back to the audience he addresses his three daughters, speaking into a microphone, and asks how much they love him.
Goneril and Regan oblige by telling him what he wants to hear but the youngest, his favourite Cordelia, is having none of it and refuses to tow the line.
As Lear rages against her, overturning the huge tables, it marks the disintegration of the state, family, loyalties, friendships and Lear's mind - something which he can see only too well.
Simon Russell Beale is mesmerising as the dictator King, a shaven-headed control freak, desperate for affirmation from all those around him and yet knowing he is slipping into the cruel world of dementia.
For a man of short stature he gives a towering performance moving seamlessly from a tyrant of a man who bullies and rebukes anyone and everyone to one who is so vulnerable and knows not what he is doing, much less what is going on around him.
This is proved when he and the Fool - a fantastic performance from Adrian Scarborough - undertake a humorous mock trial of Lear's two elder daughters only for Lear to turn in an instant and bludgeon the Fool to death in the bath.
Throughout, Russell Beale proves, if there was any doubt at all, that he is one of this country's finest actors. It is quite simply a superb performance.
He is supported by a stellar cast. Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan is sexy and kittenish as she sashays seductively around the stage using her feminine wiles. High on adrenaline and the acts of evil going on around her, her reaction to the horrifically staged eye gauging of Gloucester is a fantastic piece of acting.
Her sister Goneril is played with icy steeliness by Kate Fleetwood, another woman who will do whatever it takes and is not afraid of betraying anyone who stands in her way.
Sam Troughton is utterly convincing as the evil Edmund, the bastard son who wreaks revenge on his father, Gloucester, and step brother Edgar. Eyes bulging, it is as if he too is going mad with desire to destroy his family.
At three and a half hours long it is not for the fainthearted - it is an intense story and there are some gruelling scenes which left me emotionally drained. But this is theatre at its best and should not be missed.
King Lear is on at the National Theatre's Olivier stage until May 28. Tickets from £12. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000.