Renowned actor Simon Russell Beale, who is playing King Lear in the Academy Award-winning Sam Mendes production at the National Theatre, visited St John’s in Marlborough to dramatically enhance a Sixth Form lesson.

The visit was arranged after students saw the production at the National and St John’s English teacher Richard Smith told Simon Russell Beale’s sister-in-law, a governor and parent at St John’s, how impressed they had been with the production. 

Following this, the man described by the Independent as “the greatest actor of his generation” agreed to attend the one-hour Standard Level English class and discuss the play with the nine International Baccalaureate students.

One student Jake Seaward, 17, said: “He was a really nice guy - contrasting with his part in the play - and it was fascinating to witness the depth in which he had researched the play and the way in which he had almost 'become' Lear.

“It was interesting to see how he didn’t just act in the play; he had in-depth knowledge of every character, theme and motif within the play to such a degree that there were many aspects highlighted during the discussion that we had hadn’t picked up on while studying the text.

"I feel that his visit has greatly contributed towards both my understanding and enjoyment of the text.”

The International Baccalaureate students sit their final examinations in May.

The IB is an internationally-recognised alternative course to AS/A-levels and enables students to study a broader range of six subjects as well as a theory of knowledge course and a requirement to participate in community activities. 

For more information about the National Theatre’s production of King Lear see