Thursday 2 November 2023

King Lear - Review

Wyndhams Theatre, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh and Jessica Revell

Kenneth Branagh’s take on King Lear is an intelligent interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedies. Branagh’s treatment of the text is bold creating an amalgam of the play’s first published Folio and Quarto versions, then filleting out the narrative he considers superfluous. Not quite a King Lear Lite, but Branagh shaves a fair hour off the typical running time, bringing the show in at just under two hours with no interval.

For the most part the edits work. Amongst other clippings the courtroom scene in the hovel is chopped as is Lear’s comment on Cordelia’s quietly-spoken voice being “an excellent thing in woman”. But to be fair Branagh has trimmed wisely, maintaining the integrity of the narrative around Lear and his daughters, together with the sub-plot surrounding Gloucester and his sons. The play’s most famous quotes are (mostly) all there and in a time that has frequently seen the Bard’s prose butchered at Shakespeare’s Globe, Branagh treats the original with respect. 

On stage, Branagh is an excellent King Lear. There is weight and pathos to his words, with his curse of sterility on Goneril together with his grief in the final act, being fine examples of a well considered interpretation. His daughters are fun too. Melanie-Joyce Bermudez is a vicious Regan and Deborah Alli is an equally Ugly Sister as Goneril. There is a fine interpretation of Cordelia from Jessica Revell also doubling up as the Fool, who catches the complex sentiments of both her roles with a delightful accuracy. Doug Colling and Corey Mylchreest put in sound turns as Edgar and Edmund respectively, while Joseph Kloska’s Gloucester is deliciously done, vile jellies bouncing across the stage as his eyes are plucked out.

Jon Bausor’s designs together with Nina Dunn’s projections offer an original view of the Neolithic era in which the production is set, though the dancing and battling with staves is perhaps a little overplayed given the otherwise ruthless editing of the script.

Virtually sold out for the run, Branagh has delivered a King Lear for our times. 

Runs until 9th December
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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