Stuart King

Review: KING LEAR at Wyndham's Theatre

Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars as King Lear, Shakespeare’s foolishly narcissistic father who allows flattery (and then the lack of it), to cloud his judgement of familial love when deciding how to divide his kingdom between three daughters of differing worthiness.

King Lear Wyndhams TheatreKenneth Branagh in KING LEAR. Credit: Johan Persson

The beautiful Wyndham’s Theatre plays host to 50 performances of the Bard’s great tragedy (which Shelley described as the most perfect specimen of dramatic art in the world), until 9th December. But does this production with its stone monoliths and a seeming Damoclesian black hole looming above the stage, (courtesy of Jon Bausor) live-up to such effusive hyperbole?

Branagh the director clearly revels in his role of shaping and guiding fresh talent and he has surrounded himself with youthful players, most of whom have barely left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from which he himself graduated decades ago. But what the youthful contingent sometimes lack in gravity and fully cognisant delivery of Shakespeare’s lines of poignancy and pathos, they more than make up for with energy and total commitment to the scenes involving bitter recrimination and physical combat. The latter add pace to a play which in the past has suffered from overly ponderous interpretations and an excess of hand-wringing. At two hours, this production is a real sprinter and benefits from some neatly choreographed fight sequences and snappy staff play — think “Me Ol’ Bamboo” in sackcloth.

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools bemoans Lear as he despairs of mankind. Indeed, there is much talk currently of Branagh‘s desire to bash humanity’s collective heads together, not to mention taking a leap of faith with a possible jaunt to Broadway landing during the Presidential race — and who could blame him for using his film star cachet to ruffle some complacent feathers? He may be a relatively young Lear at 62, but he certainly has a platform and on this showing, he knows how to engage and mould a young audience.

The cast includes (in no particular order): Corey Mylchreest, Jessica Revell, Joseph Kloska, Doug Colling, Deborah Alli, Melanie-Joyce Bermudez, Eleanor de Rohan, Caleb Obediah, Chloe Fenwick-Brown, Hughie O’Donnell, Dylan Corbett-Bader, Raymond Anum, Mara Allen and Kenneth Branagh.