THE GODS WEEP
by Dennis Kelly.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 3 April 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 3 April 2.30pm.
Captioned 30 March.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 March.
And mere mortal audiences don’t get much of a laugh either.
King Lear is, of course, a great play. Dennis Kelly’s new drama for the Royal Shakespeare Company tends to bring to mind that it’s also very long. There are ingenuities in his modern parallel, though it isn’t always so parallel. Lear, now big-businessman Colm, is concerned his only child, a son, should be the man his father’s been.
It’s Shakespeare’s Gloucester/Edmund relationship that seems invoked here. Colm’s inheritors are executives Catherine and Richard, who combine to sideline him and sack his old ally Castile, then declare all-out war on each other. Which is where things go awry. As the board-table swivels towards the ground and the ordered staircase to the Boardroom shifts sideways, the scene moves to open land where ignorant armies clash brutally by night and day.
I might have missed something but in corporate wars, within or between conglomerates, it doesn’t generally happen that senior executives take to the streets, toting automatic weaponry and dropping bombs. Where are the police? Where’s the regular army? Is Kelly telling his own story or rewording Shakespeare? What results is a mishmash of the two, succeeding in being neither.
Theatre’s engaged better in political and military violence for many years, and reports of world conflicts reveal far more precision than’s on show here. Who’s financing this war? Where were the armies recruited and trained? Etc., several times over.
This isn’t like asking why King Lear’s characters show a sudden penchant for visiting Dover. Shakespeare was handling the mythical past; Kelly translates the story to a modern world where rules of cause and means insist on being observed.
Things improve with the final section, an unidyllic idyll where Colm hides from battle with Barbara, survivor of a family he’d persecuted in his power-days. But it’s overlong, scrabbling into focus in the third and final hour, though it brings the only tragic moment in a story where, otherwise, everyone is relentlessly ruthless. And Kelly’s main success lies in showing how ruthless an old Lear could have been; Jeremy Irons shows this beneath surface urbanity. But that’s little enough for enduring three often inexplicable hours.
Beth: Nikki Amuka-Bird.
Astrologer: Karen Archer.
Ian/Man: Neal Barry.
Gavin: Babou Ceesay.
Soldier/Husband: Sam Hazeldine.
Barbara: Joanna Horton.
Colm: Jeremy Irons.
Jimmy: Luke Norris.
Nadine/Woman: Sally Orrock.
Catherine: Helen Schlesinger.
Richard: Jonathan Slinger.
Martin/Waiter: Laurence Spellman.
Castile: John Stahl.
Security Guard/Big Soldier: Matthew Wilson.
Director: Maria Aberg.
Designer: Naomi Dawson.
Lighting: David Holmes.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Video/Projections: Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross for Mesmer.
Movement: Ayse Tashkiran.
Additional movement: Struan Leslie.
Company text/voice work: Charlotte Hughes D’Aeth, Stephen Kemble.
Fights: Malcolm Ranson.
Dramaturg: Jeanie Hare.
Assistant director: Lu Kemp.