Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Andrew Scott, Florence Pugh, Jim Broadbent and more… Meet the stellar cast of the BBC’s epic new television production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, directed by Richard Eyre

King Lear - Generics
In the fictional present, the 80 year-old King Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, according to their affection for him. Cordelia refuses to flatter him, so he banishes her. Having acquired power, Goneril and Regan expel their father from their homes. At the same time, Lear’s prime minister, Gloucester, is betrayed by his son Edmund and his other son, Edgar, is forced to go into hiding. Lear becomes mad, Gloucester is blinded – both the kingdom and the family descend into chaos and warfare.

KING LEAR (ANTHONY HOPKINS)
King Lear - Generics
King Lear is the totalitarian ruler of a dystopian contemporary England, whose addiction to power and suppression of emotions have skewed his view on reality. Coming to the end of both his reign and his life, Lear is confronting the rifts in his family and his kingdom which a lifetime of hubris and entitlement have caused.

GONERIL (EMMA THOMPSON)
King Lear - Generics
Goneril is the eldest of Lear’s daughters, married to the Duke of Albany. Emotionally starved by her father and raised to be as ruthless and unfeeling as he often is, Goneril is focussed on gaining the political power she feels she has earned – and will go to any lengths to get it. Her marriage is strained as she aggressively tries to usurp political power, and her husband is caught between loyalty to his wife and his duty to the King.

REGAN (EMILY WATSON)
King Lear - Generics
Regan is Lear’s middle daughter, married to the Duke of Cornwall. Where Goneril presents a veneer of being cold and aloof, Regan is more passionate and gratuitous in her cruelty. While allied on the surface, she and her sister have bitterly competed their entire lives for the affection of their father and continue to vie for both political power and the affections of Edmund. Her relationship with Cornwall is fuelled by a shared sadistic streak, but Regan is ultimately out for herself.

CORDELIA (FLORENCE PUGH)
King Lear - Generics
Cordelia is Lear’s youngest daughter. Kind, brave and honest – she is the antithesis of her sisters. Although Cordelia loves her father genuinely, she is not willing to exaggerate this love to secure her portion of the kingdom and is banished as a result. Despite this rift she continues to support Lear and demonstrates her strength and integrity as he slowly unravels.

EARL OF GLOUCESTER (JIM BROADBENT)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Gloucester is the Prime Minister and an influential member of Lear’s government. Accustomed to power and influence, he possesses an arrogance that leads to short-sightedness. Gloucester has two sons – Edgar and the illegitimate Edmund – and as with Lear, his undoing is triggered by misjudging and mistreating his children.

EDMUND (JOHN MACMILLAN)
King Lear - Generics
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester, who has been abroad for several years. Seething with resentment at his second-class status, Edmund seizes an opportunity to advance politically.

EDGAR (ANDREW SCOTT)
King Lear - Generics
A mild and trusting intellectual, Edgar is the son of the Earl of Gloucester and half-brother to Edmund. Honest but easily manipulated, he falls into the trap Edmund sets to disinherit him and has to flee society in order to stay alive. Edgar is forced to survive outside the comfortable world he knows, but as a result he discovers an inner resilience and shows immense grace when reuniting with his father in tragic circumstances.

EARL OF KENT (JIM CARTER)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Kent is a steadfast supporter of Lear, faithful to the king even after he is banished from the court for interceding on Cordelia’s behalf. Despite disagreeing with Lear’s choices, Kent takes up a disguise and follows the troubled monarch and attempts to protect him at any cost.

THE FOOL (KARL JOHNSON)
The Fool is Lear’s loyal companion and occupies the dual role of jester and advisor – one of the few people who, through riddles, can confront Lear with the truth. By his side until the end, the Fool’s title belies his insight and depth of character.

DUKE OF CORNWALL (TOBIAS MENZIES)
The Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband, is a sadistic and power-hungry man – cruel and motivated to further his political career at any cost. From his advantageous marriage to his behaviour in the aftermath of Lear’s division of the kingdom, the Duke acts with his own best interests at heart.

THE DUKE OF ALBANY (ANTHONY CALF)
The Duke of Albany is a direct contrast to his wife, Goneril, empathetic and conflicted as he gets caught up in her vendetta against her father. Morally grounded but struggling to exert a sound influence in the chaos created by Lear and his family, Albany must decide where his loyalties truly lie.

OSWALD (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON)
Dedicated chief of staff in Goneril’s household, Oswald is a fastidious man devoted to his mistress and wholeheartedly supportive of her grievances against her father.

Adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, King Lear is broadcast on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 May at 9.30pm on BBC2.

Watch the trailer of King Lear here.

For many fans, nothing beats the thrill of experiencing Shakespeare in a suitably historic venue. And now Read Not Dead on the Road is exploring the Bard’s links to the legal profession at London’s Inns of Court

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Shakespeare’s Globe is on a quest to stage every play known to have been performed on the stages of London before 1642. Launched in 1995 by Globe Education, Read Not Dead brings actors, audiences and scholars together to explore and celebrate those plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries via script-in-hand, play-in-a-day performances. They are not meant to be polished productions, but there is a shared spirit of adventure and excitement for the actors and audiences uncovering these hidden gems.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Part of the project is to take these rare plays back to their historical context. Last summer, Loves Victory by Lady Mary Wroth was staged at Penshurst Place in Kent. It is the first pastoral comedy known to be written by a woman, and Penshurst Place is the very location it is most likely to have been written and first performed 400 years ago.

At the beginning of its new ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’ season of public events, Globe Education is taking Read Not Dead across the river Thames to London’s Inns of Court for a special series celebrating the ‘amity of the inns’. The series launched in November with a performance of The Most Excellent Comedy of Two The Most Faithfullest Friends Damon and Pithias. Written around 1564 by Richard Edwards, a little-known precursor to Shakespeare, this tragi-comedy celebrates true and virtuous friendship.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

Today, friendship between the Inns and among members remains a cornerstone of Inns of Court culture, as lawyers from around the world live, study and practise together in shared amity. The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. The relationship between the law and the theatre in London is almost as old as the Inns of Court themselves. All four – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s – are known as famous, and sometime infamous, venues for professional as well as amateur drama. The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in Middle Temple Hall in 1602, an event which was celebrated on its 400th anniversary with a production of the play in the same venue by actors from Shakespeare’s Globe including Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Comedy of Errors is recorded to have been performed in 1594 at Gray’s Inn. Shakespeare was interested enough in the Inns of Court to make them the setting for Act II, Scene IV of Henry VI, Part 1.

Iain Christie is a barrister and trained actor who combines both practices. As a Bencher of the Inner Temple and a member of the Inner Temple drama society, he was involved in the Globe’s previous performance of George Gascoigne’s Supposes there last January, performing alongside Globe actors and his fellow Benchers. “The relationship between the two professions extends beyond the use of legal venues to stage historic plays,” he says, “and the pleasure of lawyers entertaining their colleagues in after-dinner revels. It applies also to the comparative skills employed by both professions.”

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Indeed, modern training courses for young lawyers increasingly engage professional actors to teach presentation skills which focus on breathing, posture, presence, and vocal projection. “I am interested in how law students can use the drama-school techniques of narrative and improvisation in their work,” says Iain. “Storytelling is a core aspect of the craft of both the advocate and actor. The advocate must always remember that his objective is to connect emotionally with the person he is trying to persuade.”

But, as Iain explains, this transference of skills does not only travel in one direction. “When I was at drama school,” he says, “I was struck by the similarity between the process of textual analysis in rehearsals and preparation for trial. The actor must create a consistent back-story for their character so their performance is grounded in a continuing reality. A barrister must build a case theory for a version of events he wishes the judge or jury to believe.

And the processes are strikingly similar. “However, whenever someone comments that in becoming an actor I am really just doing the same job I remind them that, whilst advocacy may at times be entertaining, a lawyer is engaged in a serious business. He is not there to put on a performance. Any advocate who plays to the gallery will be given a hard time in court.”

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Post Script: Read Not Dead at the Inns of Court continued into 2015 as part of ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’. Love’s Sacrifice by John Ford was performed in the Great Hall at Gray’s Inn on Sunday 15 February. The play was dedicated to Ford’s cousin and namesake, John Ford who was a member of Gray’s and who the author called “my truest friend, my worthiest kinsman.”

The performance starred current Gray’s members Master Roger Eastman, High Court Judge Sir Michael John Burton and Masters Charles Douthwaite and Colin Manning. On Sunday 1 March, Inner Temple Hall hosted The Troublesome Reign of King John of England by George Peele, in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. And the final reading returedn to the Globe, with the anonymous The Faithful Friends on 19 April.

Go here for more information and booking details on Read Not Dead.

This article originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 05. Go here to read the original version.