British director Sam Mendes is returning to the National Theatre for the first time in fifteen years to direct his long-standing Shakespeare collaborator Simon Russell Beale in the title role of King Lear. It is one of the most admired partnerships in British theatre, so have your index finger poised when it comes to booking tickets.
These 'professional soulmates' (Beale’s phrase) started out together at Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Company 20 years ago. Gathering up awards and nominations along the way, they last teamed up at the National Theatre in 1997, for Othello. At 35, Beale was arguably a bit old for his role as Iago (who is supposed to be 28). Turning 53 in January, he will make a relatively youthful Lear.
Younger audiences will associate Mendes with directing the latest Skyfall, the most successful James Bond film ever. To the theatre world, however, he is better known for making the move from the Donmar Warehouse to Hollywood stardom. His debut feature film, American Beauty (1999) was an overnight sensation. It won him an Oscar and the respect of directing god Stephen Spielberg, who famously declared: 'You’ve made a classic, Sam'.
Mendes last took on the Bard in 2011 with a production of Richard III at the Old Vic Theatre, starring Kevin Spacey. Earlier this year he ruled himself out of the running for heading up the National Theatre, saying that he wanted to concentrate on directing films and theatre.
Beale barely needs an introduction. He is “the greatest stage actor of his generation” (The Independent), the “uncle of the West End”. His Hamlet at the National in 2000 won him Evening Standard Best Actor and Critics’ Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance. And some of his best performances have been under Mendes’ direction, including his role as Ariel in The Tempest.
The full casting announcement was made in November. The mesmerising, BAFTA-winning Anna Maxwell-Martin will play Regan: a stroke of casting genius if her performance as Lyra in The National's production of His Dark Materials is anything to go by. Adrian Scarborough, whose 2011 appearance in After The Dance at the NT won him an Olivier, will play Lear's Fool. Kate Fleetwood (the wife of Rupert Goold, new Almeida AD) will take on Goneril. For full details of casting click here.
Interviewed a few years back about playing Hamlet, Beale proposed that King Lear was “probably the greatest play”. Now’s his chance to make it so.
|What||King Lear, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
23 Feb 14 – 02 Jul 14, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£12 to £48|
|Website||Book tickets via the National Theatre website|