King Lear Review, Almeida Theatre
February 8 - March 30
£12.50 – £60
William Shakespeare’s tragedy about age and betrayal comes to the Almeida Theatre from 8 February to 30 March. King Lear will be directed by Yaël Farber, and stars Danny Sapani in the title role.
On his 70th birthday Lear decides to divide his country into three parts, equally between his three daughters. But things do not turn out as he anticipated. Betrayal, war and madness follow in what is arguably the Bard’s finest and most controversial plays.
Nothing will come of nothing.
King Lear Review
Yaël Farber’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s epic play has a most contemporary vibe. The play starts with Lear deciding to divide his country into three parts at a press conference with us the invited audience. Naturally, things do not go to plan and tragedy unfolds.
The play starts slowly – perhaps too ponderously – as the political and familial ramifications unfold. However, in truth the play is something of a slow burner with the main action taking place once Lear is stripped of both power and its trappings.
Danny Sapani makes an excellent Lear. His is a most powerful performance, but also one that is laced with subtlety. The broken Lear of the final act is as accomplished as the bravura of the old man braving the storm on a night not fit for dogs. It is most cathartic. In the process Lear loses his sanity yet gains wisdom, a transformation that Sapani depicts precisely.
One of the problems with Lear as a play is the role of the Fool. Farber has opted to make the Fool a manifestation of Lear’s subconscious rather than a real court jester. In so doing some of the humour of the role is sacrificed for psychological reality. I particularly like the way that Cordelia takes up the mantle of the Fool at the end of Act III, thus explaining the absence of the Fool for the last two acts. By this time Lear has lost his sanity, so there is no room for the Fool as a representation of the battle raging in his mind. He is lost. This turmoil reminds me of Othello currently running at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse where the director Ola Ince has created a Subconscious Othello to similar effect.
As always at the Almeida, the set design is magnificent. And the use of the aisles creates adds to a sense of action to the play, especially if like me you have a aisle seat.
Michael Gould as Gloucester and Alec Newman as Kent excel in their supporting roles, yet it is Sapani’s powerful performance that takes centre stage, as it should.
By the conclusion, I feel stripped bare by the experience, leaving the theatre feeling totally cleansed. As my guest observed, the performance shows how Shakespeare’s plays have as much relevance now as in his time. Ripeness is all.
King Lear: The Cast
For the Almeida, the play is directed by Yaël Farber, whose The Tragedy of Macbeth was Olivier Awards nominated. Danny Sapani plays King Lear, Clarke Peters is The Fool and Akiya Henry, Faith Omole and Gloria Obianyo play the three daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (respectively).
When Is It?
The play runs from 8 February to 30 March, 2024. Performances are at 7pm, or 1pm for matinees.
How Much Are the Tickets?
Tickets range from £12.50 to £60. There are various discounts.
Further information can be found here.
Main image: Almeida Theatre Danny Sapani, photographed by Sebastian Nevols. Concept by Émilie Chen.