King Lear ★★★★ Wyndham’s Theatre | Oct 21 - Dec 9, 2023

Kenneth Branagh takes on a formidable challenge with his decision to both direct and star in Shakespeare's tragedy about age and the dynamics of power. The play is pared down to two hours and is set in what appears to be Stonehenge. While there will certainly be objections to both Branagh's abridging and interpretation of the work, for us, the pacing and stark staging brought a refreshing energy and intensity to a play which can sometimes seem uninflected and somewhat belaboured. Branagh, the director, has created a rich atmosphere that resonates with action and passion. He also draws some strong performances out of his cast, and we were particularly taken by Corey Mylchreest's malevolent Edmund and Joseph Kloska's tormented Gloucester. In fact, it is Branagh's own interpretation of Lear that raises some questions. From the outset, it is never quite believable that such an imperious and vigorous monarch would choose to divide his kingdom amongst his children in the first place. And, even at his most humbled, this Lear seems almost remarkably hardy. Indeed, Branagh invariably attacks and enunciates the protagonist's speeches in a way that almost belies any vulnerability or developing self-awareness. Ultimately, this is a production which offers an interpretation of the play and a portrayal of Lear that is going to provide lots of fodder for both debate and deliberation.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Johan Persson.

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