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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Gods Weep
Hampstead Theatre     Spring 2010

Appropriately for a Royal Shakespeare Company production, Dennis Kelly's new play begins and ends as a modern take on King Lear. It's what goes on in between that's the problem.

The play wanders off in several different directions, not fully developing any of them, and strains the audience's focus and stamina over nearly three hours (cut from four hours during previews).

The head of a multinational corporation decides suddenly to retire, dividing the company between two lieutenants while firing a third.

Inevitably, the new bosses immediately start making war on each other and on their benefactor, leading him to a breakdown.

This first hour of the play is the most tightly structured and probably the most fascinating, as we watch the manipulations and back-stabbing of corporate politics as war.

But then metaphor abruptly becomes real as the feuding executives turn into generals of opposing armies battling to the death and laying waste to the countryside.

This hour is the least successful, in part because once the point of the visual metaphor has been made it doesn't go anywhere, in part because the playwright gets bogged down in the literal details of the war, evidently forgetting that it was a metaphor.

Anyway, the war does succeed in killing off most of the cast, and the last hour becomes a study in survival in a post-apocalyptic world and in forgiveness and healing-through-suffering.

The Lear figure and a young woman he once harmed are improbably thrown together and try to live off what the war has left of the land.

Once again the playwright gets distracted by details, devoting more energy to the logistics of tent-building and animal catching than to the human story.

But at least there is a human story here that draws us sufficiently in for the final return to King Lear to resonate.

So there are really three separate plays here - I've actually left out a couple of subplots - one pretty successful and one partly so, but each of them in an entirely different mode and none developed sufficiently to satisfy.

(It may be the last-minute cutting, but all sorts of loose ends are left hanging from the first two plots.)

Jeremy Irons works manfully to keep a continuity to the Lear character while all that confusion is going on around him, and does succeed, especially in the last section, in creating a man who grows and learns through suffering.

Helen Schlesinger and Jonathan Slinger as the Goneril and Regan figures are most successful in the realistic first section, while Joanna Horton manages to make a believable character out of the young woman dragged into the plot just so there can be a Cordelia.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Gods Weep  - RSC at Hampstead Theatre 2010

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