Green room: Should students be given the opportunity to tackle older roles?

When studying drama, students are encouraged to experiment with a number of different and varied characters. But should this include older, more distinguished roles? Can students benefit from playing characters such as King Lear, Queen Margaret and Uncle Vanya? Can they do them justice in their own unique way? Or are they better avoided.

What’s your opinion?


Read the opinions of our panellists, in our latest issue – Spring 1 – available to buy now as a digital copy ( or you can subscribe to future issues at

National Theatre: King Lear – Performance Review

King Lear

Simon Russell Beale as King Lear (Credit: Mark Douet)

Star rating
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

I have seen four stage-Lears in my time – each excellent in some element or other – but for emotional truth this was unquestionably the most affecting. I attended with reservations: Simon Russell Beale has for many years been one of my favourite theatre actors, I returned twice to see his George in Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers at the National Theatre 10 years ago – but I couldn’t picture his Lear.

Immediately my fears were allayed. I felt disappointed by the production values of the opening, kingdom-dividing scene: classic Olivier Theatre stage-filling, two long lines of stern looking supernumerary soldiers, microphones and boardroom etiquette. I found myself transported to a large number of other Olivier productions which seemed to have begun (and continued) just the same, and wondered to myself how many of them had been directed by Sam Mendes.

However, Russell Beale’s performance snapped me back into the world of the play. He charged about the stage with a small-minded meanness, a cruelty, in fact, which decision and execution was a credit to actor and director alike. This was not to be an avuncular Lear treated badly by two impossibly selfish and heartless daughters, but a quick tempered tyrant whose offspring, with the exception of Cordelia, who is an exception rather than a chip off the old block, could be seen to be products of their upbringing. The whole thing made sense more than ever before, and the unrelenting progress of the tragedy brought me to tears periodically, throughout the production.

There are several reasons to bring any drama students to see King Lear: the simple truthfulness of the performances being foremost – Russell Beale, Adrian Scarborough as the Fool and Stanley Townsend as Kent each give beautiful accounts of themselves. However, for students studying the play I would say this is an essential production. Mendes makes the strongest decision I have seen about the strange textual anomaly which is the disappearance of the Fool relatively early in the play. An audience’s perception of the stricken King is inevitably and boldly altered when we see him in the fit of his madness beat his fool’s head in with a piece of lead pipe. One thinks back to Lear’s desperate sad plea to his loyal and open-hearted fool just a few scenes before: ‘O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven … Keep me in temper, I would not be mad.’ This production is a harrowing necessity.

King Lear is playing at the National Theatre until 28 May. All performances are sold out, except for day tickets and possible returns

The production will be broadcast to cinemas by NT Live on 1 May 2014:

Attenborough to leave Almeida Theatre

After 11 years in the role, Michael Attenborough has announced that he is to step down as artistic director at the Almeida Theatre.

Attenborough described his time at the theatre as having been, ‘consistently thrilling and rewarding.’  He made the decision to leave in Spring 2013 in order to dedicate more time to other ventures, he said: ‘After running theatres for the past 32 years, I now want to concentrate solely on my directing.’

During his time at the Almeida, Attenborough has directed productions of Measure for Measure, The Mercy Seat and King Lear, which runs at the Almeida until November. He also established Almeida Projects – a creative theatre programme for young people which claims to offer ‘10,000 opportunities for young people to participate in projects led by experienced industry professionals’.

Attenborough’s programming over the past decade has seen 32 premieres of new works, which have, on average, attracted 38% new attendees to each production. He was instrumental in securing the financial security of the Almeida, after inheriting a deficit on his arrival as artistic director. By securing long-term sponsors, Attenborough has brought the Almeida out of debt.

Christopher Rodrigues, chair of the Almeida Theatre board said: ‘It has been a privilege for all of us to work with Michael. He has taken the Almeida from strength to strength locally, nationally and internationally by presenting a truly diverse programme of work of which we are all immeasurably proud.

‘Michael has established the Almeida as a powerhouse of British theatre and secured its financial condition. We count ourselves immensely fortunate to have benefited from his leadership for over a decade and wish him every success in his future directorial career.’

Attenborough said of his departure: ‘I would like to place on record my immense gratitude to the superb staff at the Almeida, all of whom have played an integral part in everything we have achieved. Whoever succeeds me will find themselves blessed with a wonderful and unique theatre space, a hugely loyal audience and a board and staff that are second to none.’

Tim Crouch to direct RSC young people’s King Lear

Paul Copley, most recognisable recently for his portrayal of Mason in Downton Abbey, is to make his Royal Shakespeare Company debut this autumn/winter to take the title role in Tim Crouch’s new 75 minute stripped down version of King Lear. Touring schools and theatres from 11 September to 1 December 2012, the production will visit Southampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Truro, Hull, York, Birmingham and The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, as well as making a brief visit to the states to play in Ohio and New York.

In keeping with previous RSC Young Persons’ Shakespeare (YPS) productions, this version of Lear aims to be accessible to younger audiences. A royal family gathers for Christmas and the father broadcasts his seasonal message. He’s giving up work and dividing his kingdom. With this misjudged act, the natural order is turned upside down and the scene is set for a story of family break-up, homelessness and heartbreak.

Tim Crouch said: ‘With the RSC’s Young People’s Shakespeare, the audience is the focus; they guide my hand with the edit and our work in rehearsal. It’s a privilege for me to repay their influence with one of the greatest plays ever written.’

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