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KING LEAR from London
  By Stewart Hume
Your Protocol Professionals, Inc. Music Critic




On May 19, 2014 my wife and I attended a simulcast performance of Shakespeare's King Lear as it was done by London's National Theatre. This production had received generally favorable reviews and it was shown in San Francisco, California at the Kabuki Sundance Cinema. We arrived at 6:15 pm in time for a glass of wine and a pizza supper. At 7:15 pm the play began as performed at the Olivier Theatre in London. Quite exciting, or so we thought.

The cast included some of England's best actors and stared Simon Russell Beale as Lear. The Director was Sam Mendes. The first thing to notice was the placement of this melodrama at about 100 years ago, and most of the costumes were of that period. I use the term melodrama as in over-the-top acting and production. Sadly, quite a lot of ham was served. Mr. Beale should have been playing Falstaff, not Lear. He was simply not regal enough – more like a rustic roustabout. After all, the tragedy of Lear is that he really was a king with regal bearing and his downfall was both verbal and visual.

For comparison, I was brought up on Laurence Olivier whose Lear (at least on film) came a little too late but whose other work was definitive. Some of Beale's performance, and that of several others in this cast, reminded me of early recordings I had heard of the notorious John Barrymore doing scenes from Hamlet. They were terribly hammy and might have worked in a huge theater, but not on record. In recent times, I liked Derek Jacobi and he was a credible Lear. It is a horribly difficult role. I think Ralph Richardson would have played it well but never did. In his prime, Richard Burton would have been a great Lear but chose Liz Taylor and Hollywood instead.

Back to the Lear in question, the females in this cast were a mixed bag. The wicked sisters Goneril (Kate Fleetwood) and Regan (Anna Maxwell Martin) were indeed evil, but the latter did not articulate well and raced through her lines without deep understanding of their intent. Cordelia (Olivia Vinall) appeared briefly and very late. Most of the men fared better, especially Edgar (TomBrooke) and Gloucester (Stephen Boxer). They illuminated every scene they were in.

but in conclusion some questions remain. Why must so many of the great classics be radically updated and performed in modern dress? And why do the principals stab each other with knives mysteriously pulled from their clothing when gunfire and explosions are going on all around them? In the final scenes, modern warfare was in full swing with jet planes overhead and loud explosions. My wife also objected to the modernizing of some of the lines, but I felt the changes were minor and not objectionable.


Copyright © May 14, 2014 Stewart Hume. All rights reserved.




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