Fresh from Skyfall triumph, Sam Mendes swaps Bond for the Bard and Daniel Craig for long-time collaborator Simon Russell Beale in a wonderfully lucid King Lear, certain to please aficionados and win over newcomers.
Mendes’s Lear is the tyrant of a totalitarian state, whose demand for filial affection comes before a literal army of onlookers. This king knows that appearance is all. One of many clever visual cues is the gradual diminishing of this army as his power is chipped away, with Lear swapping military garb for a cardigan and, most poignantly, a hospital gown.
Russell Beale is one of our great classical actors, and his typically nuanced performance is mesmerising. He battles physical decay – head thrust bullishly forward even as his back stoops – and mental, fits of terrified rage and confusion balanced with sardonic asides and stark, heartbreaking self-awareness. One moment, he embraces his dementia with childlike glee; the next, he stuns us with a sickening act of violence.