Review - King Lear - Wyndhams Theatre, London

King Lear - Wyndhams Theatre, London

Kenneth Branagh's rendition of "King Lear" in a Neolithic setting, set and costume designed by Jon Bausor, is a visual spectacle with a striking semicircle of silvery blue stone obelisks encompassing the stage. Although the moving stones seemed unnecessary, the overall effect was visually captivating. The projector screen, mounted with a hole for a downward light, showcased breathtaking sky and star designs by Nina Dunn of Pixellux, though this was interrupted by the distracting shadow of a moth dancing on the lens. Paul Keogan's lighting design with the help of the haze seamlessly blended the starry sky from the projector screen to the floor, although at times, the lights made the stone obelisks appear lackluster, resembling MDF.

The play's Neolithic backdrop is reflected in the exquisite costumes, featuring neutral earth tones with leather and furs, signalling hierarchical differences among characters. However, the interplay between the ancient setting and Shakespeare's language and references of noble titles and letter writing felt disjointed, interrupting the illusion. The diverse casting, while commendable, presented some inconsistencies in character relationships, potentially altering the intended narrative between father daughter relationships, illegitimate children and Neolithic weddings.

Branagh's simultaneous role as both director and lead actor lacked emotional depth, leaving the portrayal of Lear's journey lacking in resonance. There were questionable choices of words to emphasise along with spitting out the last syllables of some words. Doug Colling's standout performance as Edgar, coupled with Bret Yount's dynamic choreography during the stick fighting sequence, provided some memorable moments within the production. In light of the ambitious staging, relocating the performance to a site like the Minack Theatre, complemented by a Cornish accent and an adapted storyline, might have amplified the intended concept, creating a more cohesive and immersive theatrical experience.

This show was reviewed on the 28th October.  King Lear runs at the Wyndhams Theatre, London until the 9th December 2023.  Tickets available here: King Lear - Wyndham's Theatre (

*** stars

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Photo credit: Johan Persson