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King Lear (BAM)

From 25 critic and 52 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Great staging, Absorbing

About the show

BAM's presentation of the RSC production of Shakespeare's great tragedy features Olivier Award-winning actor Sir Antony Sher as the all-too-trusting monarch in the twilight of his sanity. More…

There are Shakespeare kings, and then there is Lear—rain-raving madman, dad with daughter issues, and a role that actors wait a lifetime to play. Beneath a pagan sun that gives way to a bleak winter, Sher’s Lear growls, inhabiting the self-searching conscience of a king who—after unwisely divesting his lands to the wrong people—causes heads to roll.


"The Royal Shakespeare Company's latest King Lear, as directed by Gregory Doran, is one that needs no explanation and no program notes. At one and the same time both medieval and contemporary, this production solves many of the questions that often go unanswered. Sir Antony Sher in a glorious cap to his career gives a memorably luminous and unambiguous performance in the title role which should stand as a bar by which others will be measured." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Everything about this Royal Shakespeare Company production—from Niki Turner’s lavish costumes to the 12 local amateur actors in assorted nonspeaking roles to a bloody eye-gouging scene that would make Martin McDonagh proud—says epic...Sher’s performance, however, isn’t as massive as you might be expecting...You’ll likely never see a better bastard Edmund than Paapa Essiedu...If you’ve never seen 'King Lear,' seeing Antony Sher, directed by Gregory Doran, is a rare, rare treat." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"This may not be the most explosive 'Lear' you've ever seen, but it might be the smartest...Doran's production is both meticulous and majestic, and Sher's declining monarch is a fiercely precise performance, if not always a heartrending one - I couldn't always feel their 'Lear,' but I could always see it...The play is rich with imagery of sight and sightlessness...Intellectually wide-ranging, necessarily imperfect, but one that undoubtedly helps us see Shakespeare's Everest better." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Sher's Lear is clearly spoken, emotionally powerful, and authoritative...Humanizing the characters also comes out in Doran's treatment of Goneril and Regan...The parallel plot of Gloucester and his two sons is equally well handled...No 'King Lear' production is ever perfect, but Doran's is a splendid rendering of a great play, and Sher's Lear is every inch a king that devotees of Shakespeare won't want to miss." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Under Doran's direction, virtually every performance casts a light on this awful procession of human folly...There are occasional touches that grate...But there are many more moments that contribute to an overwhelmingly powerful whole...Most of all, there is Sher's Lear...He offers an especially tender reading of the final speech, completing the character's journey from the apex of power to a state of nothingness...At this production, pity and terror are guaranteed." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Sometimes thrillingly inspired, sometimes workmanlike revival...Much of Sher's performance is marked by unadulterated shouting...There are eye- and ear-catching performances from Troughton as self-deluded Gloucester, Ndiweni as a lovely but determined Cordelia, Graham Turner's Fool, Antony Bryne's furious Kent, Clarence Smith's authoritative Albany, and Byron Mondahl's vituperative Oswald." Full Review

Stage Left

"Director Gregory Doran presents a stately and unfussy production, and Sir Sher does a fine job in this titanic and much-coveted role, but it is Oliver Johnstone as Edgar who stands out...A refreshingly diverse ensemble is strong and intense, and the visuals are striking, making for an excellent, if straight-forward production of one of Shakespeare’s most-celebrated masterpieces." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"This 'Lear' feels like somewhat of a hybrid, torn between its traditional impulses and more modern touches. Fortunately Sher and his talented castmates keep the focus squarely on the text through their performances. Their contributions make this an affecting and ultimately rewarding production despite its occasional missteps, well worth its three-plus hour running time for the pleasure of savoring a most excellently-acted, handsome production." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Themes of truth versus lip service and of human fragility are incredibly relevant today...Doran's production does not go out of its way to force feed these themes to its audience, instead letting the text speak for itself...Every company member plays at the top of their abilities. There's that certain comforting thrill when you can feel, but are not distracted by, the skill and technique of each performer. Sher is phenomenal as Lear...Shakespeare performed and produced really well." Full Review

The New York Times

"It may sound like a backhanded compliment to praise this show as a good introductory 'King Lear,' one you could take restless 10th graders to, but it is not...Making Shakespeare flow in a stylistically coherent production is not easy...Every syllable here resonates with a crisp precision that feels earned...Yet there is something a little frustrating about a performance where every inflection, every gesture comes across as the calculated result of a lengthy thought process." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"It’s no wonder it is seen as a touchstone for an older actor to conquer, and Sher gives us a Lear to remember. His descent to powerlessness is quick and merciless, but sadly his madness doesn’t resonate as solidly...The actors are all absolutely giving us the finest reading of the text possible, presenting us with a flawless reading of a benchmark play, but for all the precision, the traditional direction fail to bring us an emotional connection to the fall." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"Doran's often visually arresting if rarely shattering production...Sher as Lear seems like a tired, distracted old guy ready for retirement. As a result, there is a less vertiginous descent...Sher does have some powerful moments...Troughton is deeply moving as Gloucester, Johnstone is engaging as the soil-smeared pretend-mad Edgar, and Essiedu makes an impressive U.S. stage debut...There is enough to see – to keep one involved, if not always transfixed." Full Review


"Sher gives an iconic performance...He is captivating...Lear is set up to be our villain, a certainly unique and fresh take by Doran...This (re)interpretation is exciting and bold. However, as the tragedy gears towards a close, the directorial vision falls apart, completely unsupported by the text...This production was not about coherence, it instead chose to embrace the madness of the play and present a 'King Lear' that was beautiful, intense, and felt new. It certainly delivers." Full Review


"Despite an excellent cast, it's really Sher's forceful presence and exquisite comedic timing that buoys the production when it seems in danger of foundering under Gregory Doran's inspired but incongruous direction...Had this simple but captivating aesthetic remained consistent throughout, the production would have been tremendously affecting. But Doran strays from this vision with the disappointingly static storm scene...Fortunately, Sher's scenes get the show back on track." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"The director has come up with staging innovations that uses supernumeraries to play the wretched residents of Lear's kingdom and a big Plexiglas box that's probably supposed to symbolize something but, in all honesty, I can't figure out what...Nearly everyone, from Sher to the actors playing the servants, speaks the Bard's lines beautifully...But none of the performances made me feel anything even though this is perhaps the saddest of Shakespeare's plays." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Sher is miscast in the part, and this central instability throws the play's whole system into disarray. To be sure, he is an extraordinary actor...But his oiled stylizations don't work for a character who falls apart...Doran doesn't help him: Bizarre staging choices...The sheer number of half-thought ideas hoisted and quickly abandoned in this production testifies to a lack of confidence...You can still hear some wonderful language...But you'll be doing a lot of the heavy digging yourself." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production "Sher is unbearably moving as the volatile king, in Doran’s stellar production full of standout performances...Doran’s production has strength in depth...The production rests on the intemperate unpredictability of Sher’s Lear. Having shown a beatific gentleness to Cordelia after their defeat, he rounds on their captors with downright violence – a moment that perfectly encapsulates the insane contradictions in the character and the play itself." Full Review

The Telegraph (UK)

for a previous production "A mightily impressive performance – one that will rank as a crowning achievement in a major career – in a production, directed by Gregory Doran, that is bolted together with clarity, insight, and a relish for the monumental...Sher has the psychological measure of this rash monarch...but there are moments when he succumbs to old-fashioned mannerism...His gravelly delivery, almost as if passing the verse through a rain-stick, doesn’t yield many tonal surprises." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

for a previous production "Sher’s Lear, even at his most ridiculous, is dignified. His madness never becomes a loss of control...Even during the storm episode, his expatiation on poverty and homelessness is lucid...This recurring motif is an augmentation of Doran’s alluding to the acute social situation at the time the play was written...A handful of Doran’s direct­orial touches are not to my taste, but none trips up the narrative, emotional or thematic progress." Full Review

The Independent (UK)

for a previous production "A production that unfolds with great clarity and confidence and boldness of gesture...Makes a strong case that Lear is a man more sinning than sinned against in the first movement of the play. Sher is magnificent at the fierce, rebarbative side of this monarch...But there’s a slight inflexibility in his gruff delivery of the verse that prevents it from sounding fully lived in...It’s an evening that moves and impresses but falls short of leaving you, as it should, shattered to the core." Full Review

The Times (UK)

for a previous production "It’s an absorbing three hours, the best parts of which have a sense of discovery about them that is thrilling. Sher offers such a vivid impression of power fading that you can feel how a mind would warp itself to make sense of such a decline...The evening sags in the middle...Still, the court politicking is dark and dynamic...Doran’s production can’t sustain that sort of intensity for the full three hours. At its best, though, it’s a revelation." Full Review

What's On Stage (UK)

for a previous production "Does it live up to the big build-up? Well, mostly. Sher himself is as monumental as the role...He's never less than mesmerising to watch...Some of the supporting players are running to keep up...Maybe it's the weight of expectation that makes excessive demands on this show, but there is a slight sense of anticlimax...There's no question this is a very fine 'Lear,' with a terrific performance at its heart and lots of additional qualities to commend it. I just wanted it to soar more." Full Review

The Stage (UK)

for a previous production "Sher’s Lear feels physically diminished throughout. It’s as if he has shrunk a bit, a grizzled figure drowning in his overflowing robe and Cossack-style hat. His air of authority, as he fatally divides up his kingdom, is continually evaporating...There are some striking modern touches...The most piercingly moving performance comes from David Troughton’s magnificent, towering Gloucester...Strong but not definitive." Full Review

The London Evening Standard

for a previous production "Doran ensures there’s a pleasing narrative clarity, but doesn’t always locate the power of Shakespeare’s tragedy...When Gloucester is blinded, the incident takes place in a perspex box...It has the effect of muffling the drama and making its ugliest episode almost camp...The best scene reunites Lear with a desolate Gloucester, and it’s here that Sher is most absorbingly intelligent. But this isn’t an interpretation that fully realises the play’s depths of grief." Full Review

Live Theatre UK

for a previous production "Doran’s production is as beautiful and lucid as one has come to expect from him. He has a rare ability to ensure that even the most difficult passages in Shakespeare are totally comprehensible, that motivations and narrative points are clear...Sher's Lear is dull...a disconnected, thoroughly unaffecting performance that is as bewildering as it is tiresomely self-indulgent...The production is redeemed, as far as possible anyway, by the triumphant turns from the three Gloucesters." Full Review

Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Riveting, Epic

See it if You like traditional productions of Shakespeare's plays. The acting is superb. Possibly the best production of Lear I've ever seen.

Don't see it if You aren't interested in seeing a straightforward perfectly acted but uncut King Lear that is almost 3 1/2 hours long.

Masterful, Must see, Great writing, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you like great acting and an entertaining soap opera of greed betrayal murder adultery and all the other good stuff

Don't see it if Don't be intimidated by a little Shakespeare! THIS TAWDRY TALE IS GREAT FUN!

Great acting, Masterful, Riveting, Ambitious, Delightful

See it if you like Lear, BAM, great Shakespeare, spot-on acting across the board, a perfect balance of good and evil (rare achievements in Lear!)

Don't see it if In an otherwise perfect production, Sher pontificated to the audience too much; and the thunderstorm scene was very odd - way up on a box

Also But those are really quibbles. Fans of Lear will appreciate the amazin... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Great interpretation, Thought-provoking

See it if You are looking for an entertaining interpretation where all the characters are SUPER extra and Goneril is surprisingly sympathetic

Don't see it if You don't like Shakespeare or can't handle the vertigo-inducing balcony seats of the Harvey Theater

Great writing, Great acting, Profound, Masterful

See it if you want to see a straightforward production of King Lear, with outstanding performances by Essiedu, Troughton, and Byrne.

Don't see it if you prefer a more regal Lear. Sher is a fine actor, but I never had the sense of him as a king, which made his downfall less compelling.

Also I don't know if it was Sher's performance, Doran's directing, or just ... Read more Read less

Exquisite, Great acting, Great staging, Epic, Ambitious

See it if look for a great production where everything goes well Fascinating stage design, impeccable acting. This is a BOLD version of a master piece

Don't see it if Should see. How to skip it? This is the type of plays a theater lover can’t miss.

Epic, Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if You're a fan of Shakespeare or an experienced theatregoer who wants to see one of the most difficult plays to pull off done really well.

Don't see it if You're a newcomer to Shakespeare or theatre in general. You get impatient with long plays.

Also Here's a couple of noteworthy points I wanted to include. I came to th... Read more Read less

Great acting, Absorbing, Masterful

See it if you've never seen King Lear before, enjoy intelligent, clear Shakespearean storytelling and excellent performances all around.

Don't see it if you prefer flashier or modern productions, expect a more interpretative take on a classic, or have little patience to sit through 3.5 hours.

Great acting, Epic, Must see, Chilling, Powerful

See it if you have never seen a production of "King Lear" .... or even if you have seen a dozen productions.

Don't see it if you don't like Shakespeare ....

Also I've seen many a production of Lear and while some have been more movi... Read more Read less

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Riveting, Intense

See it if you want to see an outstanding Lear, supported by skilled actors who know how to "speak the speech", not derailed by a directorial "concept"

Don't see it if you don't like Shakespeare or plays that last over three hours.

Absorbing, Intense, Intelligent, Great acting, Masterful

See it if Great acting, diverse talented cast, a few modernist winks, fine stagecraft, and Shakespeare -- all in an intimate setting.

Don't see it if A wordy 3.5 hour production is too much for you.

Also Very engaging and entertaining. More humor than I'd expect in a Lear, ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Must see, Intense, Absorbing

See it if You want to see a moving, fantastic King Lear who will bring tears to your eyes, and is the best Lear you will ever see.

Don't see it if You only like musicals and comedies.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense

See it if You don't want to miss one of the world's great actors grow old, lose his wits, find wisdom in an uneven but well-spoken cast.

Don't see it if You can't handle the language or sit for over three hours. But it's worth a trip to Brooklyn for the best Lear you're likely to see.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if You want to see the Royal Shakespeare Company doing what they do best...straight forward Shakespeare with clarity and focus

Don't see it if You can't sit through 3+hours of verse, regardless of how well it is done

Great acting, Intelligent

See it if You want a well-acted, fairly straightforward production where everyone knows what every word they are saying means. & Paapa Essiedu is fab.

Don't see it if You are not a fan of Shakespeare or like additional bells & whistles or alternate time periods.

Enchanting, Funny, Great acting

See it if you like the play and you want to see an intelligent, albeit classical, staging of it

Don't see it if you can't sit 3 and a half hours in a theatre and have trouble understanding English accents/Shakespeare's language

Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Masterful, Quirky

See it if You want to see a straightforward production of an eternal classic, in a respectable if not consistently inspired production.

Don't see it if You like your dramas compact, you need to see stars or scenery chewing.

Great acting, Great writing, Masterful, Epic

See it if you admire the acting of Sir Anthony Sher. He is truly magnificent (if not a bit too young) as Lear. RSC actors are a treasure.

Don't see it if you want clear direction. The Fool and Lear also lacked emotional connection. Storm scene underwhelming. This is the full version and long.

Epic, Resonant, Great writing

See it if You like solid Shakespeare done by the RSC in black, gold, and grey drapes and clothes

Don't see it if Thoughts of mortality, dementia, and familial strife are too hard for you to take.

Ambitious, Great acting, Epic, Slow, Masterful

See it if you want to see masterful performances by great actors. The costumes and staging are wonderful, too.

Don't see it if you don't like or understand Shakespeare. Lear is not easy, it's long, and can be a little ponderous. I must admit my eyes closed at times.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Dizzying, Confusing

See it if you are a fan of Shakespeare done traditionally, want to see a production of Lear, like the actor Anthony Sher & English actors' voices

Don't see it if 3-1/2 hours is too long to sit, you can't understand the Bard's English, find it difficult to keep track of actors in multiple roles,

Absorbing, Great staging, Great acting, Masterful

See it if You want to watch Sir Anthony Sher and the RSC perform the full length Lear without frills. Superior actors and flawless direction.

Don't see it if You need the abridged version, and cannot sit for 3 hours and 20 minutes. You prefer modern versions of Shakespeare.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if you like WS; RSC is the gold standard. KL is intelligent and accessible. The words can be (mostly) understood. A flaw: Sher disappoints.

Don't see it if Lear upsets you (enucleated eye scene is gory!) The sets are minimal, but have majesty. Many strong actors, w/standouts Goneril & Edmund.

Also King Lear revolves around the title character, so if the actor is not ... Read more Read less

Cliched, Entertaining, Dizzying, Intelligent, Slow

See it if You want to see a true to form Shakespeare play. You like the Bards work. You like pompous actors

Don't see it if You want innovative theater. You don’t like Anthony sher and his self-indulgent style of acting

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Slow, Conservative approach is paradoxically refreshing, Head not heart

See it if you want to see an entirely respectable production of King Lear. A thoughtful understanding of the characters’ underlying resentments.

Don't see it if you can’t bear a slow build for a plot everyone already knows. Doesn’t exactly grab you by the lapels from the get go. I was impatient.

Also Doran directs w/ a light touch and works w/ the play on its own terms.... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (28)