Review: King Lear, Almeida Theatre

Yaël Farber brings depth as well as length to an impeccably acted King Lear at the Almeida Theatre

Nothing will come of nothing.

With a curtain drawn over Kenneth Branagh’s singular take on the play which raced through in two straight hours, Yaël Farber returns King Lear to something more of its accustomed Shakespearean grandeur with a production that pushes well past three hours. That’s not to say that length matters, so much as the opportunity for a particular creative vision to come to real fruition.

Farber’s house style is well established now, and she knows how to execute it. Merle Hensel’s set design transmutes alongside Lear’s mental decline, the precision of Lee Curran’s lighting elucidates so much early on before enveloping us in a world of shadows, Max Perryment’s compositions and Peter Rice’s sound similarly nudging into the strangeness of an uncertain future for this world.

Matched with a strong cast, the first two hours pass by fleet-footedly. Danny Sapani’s bearish and brutal Lear has echoes of a warlord, authoritarian to the core but shaken in how his decisions play out, Clarke Peters’ Fool feeling more like an internal dialogue than I’ve ever felt before, a powerfully effective choice. Faith Omole’s Regan, Akiya Henry’s Goneril and Gloria Obianyo’s Cordelia imbue each of the daughters with piercing individuality that again register vividly on the stage of the Almeida.

With the extensive running time, there’s a palpable feeling of authentic egalitarianism too, a genuine company feel that works so much more effectively than the recent star vehicle take – Fra Fee and Matthew Tennyson’s Edmund and Edgar certainly benefitting here. There’s no doubting it’s a hefty endeavour, even with the earlier start, and there are moments in the third quarter that do start to drag but overall, it is a worthwhile investment of your time.

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