The Cordelia Dream, Wilton's Music Hall, London


Definitely not sharper than a serpent's tooth

The Cordelia dream in the title of Irish playwright Marina Carr's new play for the RSC is that of a Woman who hears the four howls (as opposed to five nevers) in King Lear. Is this Woman, played incisively by Michelle Gomez, Cordelia herself? Is the Man she is visiting, played crazily by David Hargreaves, supposed to be Lear?

Is she dead? Is she a nurse? How long have you got? The two characters remain Man and Woman only. Carr wants the weight of her general thoughts to eclipse the identity of the messengers. They are both musicians. We hear Man's work, a sort of plangent, hysterical modernist mish-mash composed by Conor Linehan, played spiritedly at the side of Wilton's on a string trio against a piano recording.

Man says he is a genius and accuses Woman of being a charlatan. After a fairly compelling first hour, Selina Cartwell's production then deteriorates into a re-run of stale arguments between father and daughter as they exchange clothes and insults and then toast his virility and her silence. They uncork the champagne with a feeble phut, which just about sums it all up. Gomez's face is daubed in blue, to signify death, and the couple dance a dismal waltz to the unlikely seasonal accompaniment of "Silent Night".

In its defence, I'd say the writer is saying something quite interesting, and Celtic, about the need for children to abandon their parents, and the difficulties that arise when an artist feels threatened by his own children. And I like the sound if not substance of Woman's idea that an artist transforms the process of disguise and plagiarism in the necessity of writing something down by an act of faith. But Carr never allows this theme any room to breathe or prosper as Woman is also confined – and defined – by such curious assertions that there's not been a good time to be a woman since the Brontës, and Man hasn't finished a work of any note – or indeed, stave -- for years.

You could imagine a wonderful dramatised bust-up between Kingsley and Martin Amis, say, or Lennox and Michael Berkeley. By the end of Carr's play, which is neither as bad as it sounds nor as good as it should have been, I would have settled for a ding dong between Judy Garland and Liza Minelli, or perhaps even John and Julian Lennon; instead of dealing with the death sentence of working in a great parent's shadow, Carr suggests merely that the parent works towards some kind of salvation in the protracted demise of the offspring. This is a tragic conclusion that the piece, as theatre, simply doesn't earn.

Commissioned to write a response to King Lear as part of last year's Complete Works festival, Carr is left high and dry with a play that only exposes the desperation of the RSC new writing policy and looks ridiculous on the high scaffolded platform in Wilton's, but not as ridiculous as the first play in this season, Adriano Shaplin's The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes.

Cartwell's production is another dog's dinner, despite the dedicated performances of Gomez and Hargreaves, the latter even bearing the indignity of lying on top of the piano in his underpants – not one of the year's erotic highlights – with a patient shrug. The musicians aren't sufficiently integrated. In fact, I didn't even know they were there until they came on for a bow with their fiddles.

The use of video screens is perfunctory and soon dropped. The perfect acoustic is betrayed in the inside-out standing flats of Giles Cadle's design, which send voices shooting off in all directions. You see how the RSC spends money, but you don't see what's driving the creative engine; it's running on empty.

The second act takes place five years after the first, and the Man has at last completed a concerto for piano and strings called "The Cordelia Dream." But Woman says it sounds like a first draft only, and they're off again, opening old sores and piling up Man's problems with the child he says was goat-faced and dog-hearted with the soul of a snake.

Woman bides her time, but there's no way back from that terrible condemnation; only an exit.

To 10 January (0844 800 1118)

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?