King Lear – reviews of Sam Mendes' 'exceptional' staging

Jan 27, 2014

Simon Russell Beale stars as the tragic Lear in a gripping modern-day version of Shakespeare's masterpiece

What you need to know

Critics are praising Simon Russell Beale's "magnetic" performance in Sam Mendes's "exceptional" new production of King Lear, at the National Theatre. Russell Beale, who stars in the title role, has been a frequent collaborator with Mendes in Shakespeare productions for over 20 years.

Shakespeare's tragedy tells the story of an ageing, tyrannical king who decides to bestow his kingdom on his three daughters according to their ability to praise him. When one daughter fails to flatter him sufficiently, he gifts her share to her devious sisters with tragic consequences.

Mendes stages the play in modern dress and sets it in a present-day totalitarian state. Runs until 25 March.

What the critics like

Sam Mendes' King Lear evokes a "potent, touching sense of a devastating decline", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. And Russell Beale proves once again why he is one of our great actors.

This Lear is "quite exceptional", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It combines a cosmic scale with an intimate sense of detail, while Beale's extraordinary Lear is magnetic and unorthodox.

This is "a complex and potent account of a play that never ceases to appal and astonish", says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. Russell Beale, one of our greatest actors, gives one of his best performances ever, and the quality of the support cast is superb.

What they don't like

With a punishing running time and some overblown directorial flourishes this production "doesn't quite do full justice this greatest of plays", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. It is a genuinely gripping and often affecting evening but there are moments that seem like spectacle for spectacle's sake. 

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King Lear – reviews of Sam Mendes' 'exceptional' staging. I
think Shakespeare's point did not get through, women drive you mad.