Review: National Theatre’s ‘King Lear’ production ‘amazing’ |

Review: National Theatre’s ‘King Lear’ production ‘amazing’

Sandra Rockman
Submitted to The Union

King Lear by William Shakespeare at The National Theatre will be broadcast live to audiences in Grass Valley and around the world one final time May 17.

A dysfunctional family, an aging parent with advanced dementia, deception, greed and jealousy, inheritance issues, marital infidelities – all the difficulties of family life are completely recognizable in Shakespeare's "Lear," which was first published in 1608. The latest production of the National Theater of London Live, this performance was taped and broadcast into 1,000 theaters in 35 countries, including our Sierra Cinemas location Thursday evening.

In the hands of theater and film director Sam Mendes ("Skyfall," "American Beauty"), "Lear" has been set in modern times; this familial tragedy is further complicated by a war between England and France. Mendes has cast Simon Russell Beale in the role of Lear. Beale is one of the principal actors at National Theatre Live and this is their ninth production together.

A very interesting feature of this showing was a video at the "interval" (intermission in American English) with cast members and consultants discussing the probability of Lear's condition as specifically symptomatic of Lewy Body Dementia. This disease is characterized by visual hallucinations, rigidity and/or tremors, cognitive and sleep disorders. All of these aspects are present in the text of the play and clearly acted by Beale whose hand motions, body language and volatility demonstrate an irrational and diseased senility.

Add to all that the schemings of Lear's daughters and the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester and you have a recipe for mayhem and calamity.

The cast is, as usual, stupendous. The principals are augmented by 30 extras who form the armies and fill out the larger assemblages of various scenes. As a regular National Theatre Live theatergoer, I am becoming familiar with and fond of many in their company. Like favorites from Downtown Abbey, I recognized Lear's "Fool" as the butler in the recent Upstairs, Downstairs on Masterpiece Theatre. Tom Brooke, playing the wise but woebegone son of Gloucester, was a standout. Lear's two evil daughters (Kate Fleetwood, Anna Maxwell Martin) were nuanced and fascinating in their falsities as their true characters emerged and furthered the plotting. Olivia Vinall was very sympathetic as the lovely Cordelia. Steven Boxer as Gloucester was downright terrific.

And also as usual, the settings on the Olivier Theater of the National Theatre Live complex, were amazing. Using a turntable, a generic backdrop, a few pieces of furniture and some props, the many settings were effective and the transitions seamless.

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"King Lear" has two more showings at the Sierra Cinemas – at 10 a.m. May 17. For more information, go to or call 530-477-9000.

Upcoming performances should also be noted. A re-broadcast of the "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is not to be missed. First shown in 2012, it will be showing only once at 7:15 p.m. July 30. It is one of the most amazing productions I've ever seen – brilliant in both its direction and acting! And who can miss with an Ayckbourn comedy – "A Small Family Business" coming in June. Lots to look forward to – thanks to Sierra Cinemas for enlivening our community.

Sandra Rockman is a devoted theater-goer as well as a theater-doer. Contact her at or call her at 530-265-6514.

Know & Go:

WHO: Sierra Cinemas Presents

WHAT: National Theatre Live: King Lear

WHEN: Thursday, May 1 at 7:15 pm, Wednesday, May 7 at 3:30 pm, and Saturday, March 17 at 10:00 am

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $18 Adults, $15 Seniors, Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO:, 530-477-9000

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