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King Lear actor loses voice during National Theatre performance

Simon Russell Beale as Lear, with Adrian Scarborough playing The Fool (Picture: Mark Douet/National Theatre) Simon Russell Beale as Lear, with Adrian Scarborough playing The Fool (Picture: Mark Douet/National Theatre)

Thursday, January 23, 2014
10:59 AM

Simon Russell Beale, who is currently playing King Lear in Sam Mendes’ production of the Shakespeare tragedy at the National Theatre, has said cast members believed Sam Troughton was still acting when he lost his voice during a performance on Tuesday.

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Actor Sam Troughton as Edmund alongside Kate Fleetwood, Goneril (Picture: National Theatre)Actor Sam Troughton as Edmund alongside Kate Fleetwood, Goneril (Picture: National Theatre)

The British actor, who plays Edmund, stopped mid-sentence in the first half of the preview show earlier this week, and had to be replaced by understudy Paapa Essiedu.

A spokeswoman for the National Theatre said they did not know when he would reappear in the production, which has a press night tonight.

Speaking on the BBC’s Front Row programme yesterday, leading man Beale said he did not know what was going on when the incident happened.

“I make an entrance at the back of the theatre at one point, and was stood there getting ready when I saw [director] Sam [Mendes] whizz past,” he said.

The Fool (Adrian Scarborough) sits at a statue of Lear with The Earl of Kent (Stanley Townsend)  (Picture: Mark Douet/National Theatre)The Fool (Adrian Scarborough) sits at a statue of Lear with The Earl of Kent (Stanley Townsend) (Picture: Mark Douet/National Theatre)

“And he said ‘Sam’s lost his voice’ – and of course I hadn’t heard anything, I didn’t hear it happen on stage…

“I literally didn’t hear what happened, and for the rest of the first half I couldn’t get any information.”

He added some of the cast thought it was deliberate, with Stephen Boxer, who plays Edmund’s father the Earl of Gloucester, telling Troughton “that’s a very daring choice at the Olivier Theatre!”

Beale said it was a “very peculiar feeling” to be on the wings with no information.

“We wish him well, because it must have been terrifying, apparently his voice just completely gave out,” he said.

The veteran stage actor - who played Falstaff in the recent BBC television adaptations of Henry IV, Part I and Part II – recalled a similar incident last year in which he broke his finger on stage during a performance of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens.

“I had to say to the audience: ‘I’m very sorry ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to have to go because I’ve broken my hand.

“And I was on stage with one other actor who said go now, because it was dislocated.

“And within nine minutes… My understudy was on and dressed and made up…

“So that was what was happening in the interval.”

Mendes’ King Lear runs until the end of May, with all tickets barring those available on the day sold out until April.

A spokeswoman for the National Theatre said of Troughton, who is an acclaimed Shakespeare actor: “We’re not sure yet when he’ll be back.

“It was just a problem with his voice – we can’t say any more than that.”

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