Simon Russell Beale
One of the odd and unique interesting qualities of King Lear is its fantastic and vague setting in prehistoric Britain, that Shakespeare chose a tale of a king you couldn’t find in a list of the Kings and Queens of England, even while he gave the play something of a history play shape, with British Kings and princes, crises of succession and fighting with each other and France. But it isn’t a history play, it's based on a britannic myth that was already a myth in the middle ages, and the play is set around about some time in the misty, undocumented bog before Ethelwulf, Egbert and Offa, and after Arthur, but perhaps not, maybe it predates the Romans, maybe even the Celts? It's in a parallel timeline no doubt.
Gnawing the flesh. It was the best of Timon; it was the worst of Timon. Reducing a stage production to one sentence rarely does it justice, but the National Theatre’s new, wildly popular Timon of Athens, mounted as a showcase for London’s favorite actor, Simon Russell Beale, wins the best and worst prize on several counts. It takes the messiest of Shakespeare’s late plays, a nasty, grinding parable about misanthropy, and delivers a glittering first half that is unexpected magic before the genii departs and we endure the dismal gray of the second half.
I've gone to a lot of Shakespeare this summer, four plays in a month, but nothing had me more curious than the Old Vic's transatlantic production of The Winter's Tale. It's one half of the Bridge Project, which combines British and American actors in productions that appeared first in New York and now in London. Winter's Tale alternates with Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, and although various critics prefer one over the other, all agree that Simon Russell Beale, as King Leontes, has been stellar. He would almost have to be, given the impossibility of the role. Othello's jealousy seems improbable to many, spurred as it is by a stolen handkerchief embroidered with strawberries, but Iago's malice ignites it and keeps it burning.
The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
A Bridge Project production at BAM, directed by Sam Mendes
Simon Russell Beale – Leontes, King of Sicily
Michael Braun – Dion, Lord of Sicilia/Florizel
Morven Christie – Perdita/Mamillius
Sinéad Cusack – …
The observer effect. After the play Betrayal, from 1981, I lost track of Harold Pinter. London productions of his plays have the zing of authentic English irony, etched menace, and pithy delivery that doesn’t come across with American accents. One could see Pinter as an actor as late as 1995 when he appeared in the West End in a revival of an earlier work, The Hothouse. Pinter is as strange and threatening on stage as on paper, although a witty anecdote circulated around that production. Supposedly his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, phoned up the management and said, “The whole run has been so successful, Harold and I were thinking that you should have the Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theater,” to which the manager replied, “Or he could just rename himself Harold Comedy.”