King Lear, Almeida Theatre, stage review: ‘Ramped-up, sexed-up take on the Shakespeare classic’

Danny Sapani and Gloria Obianyo in King Lear. Photograph: Marc Brenner

It is hard not to love King Lear, with a storyline fit for a television serial, and characters oozing guile.

But the play is long, and many a director has struggled to tug the audience with them for three and a half hours.

Yaël Farber’s production at the Almeida takes the bull by the horns to deliver a ramped-up, sexed-up take on the Shakespeare classic.

Her artful staging packs in popular appeal by backing the dramatic crescendo with infusions of song, violin-wielding actors and an abundance of finely-choreographed movement.

The audience remains gripped throughout. Many of us will have experienced the play’s central predicament: how to distinguish true expressions of love from their false counterparts.

Fra Fee and Akiya Henry impress. Photograph: Marc Brenner

The king fails this test early on, but Danny Sapani manages to project gravitas into the role even as Lear descends into madness.

A brooding Cordelia (Gloria Obianyo) balances her father’s vigour with noble fortitude and an impressive stage presence, leaving us wondering that the bard did not allot her more lines.

At the opposite edge of the moral compass, the consummate rogue Edmund (Fra Fee), is extremely plausible as an irresistible cad who drags Cordelia’s sisters further into depravity.

With culturally-layered finesse, the Fool (Clarke Peters) delivers the drama’s central message: “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

Would that it were so simple.

King Lear runs until 30 March 2024 at the Almeida Theatre.