The Gods Weep, Hampstead Theatre, London
A Good Night Out in the Valleys, Miners' Institute, Blackwood
Sisters, Crucible Studio, Sheffield

Shakespeare this ain't, but it tries very hard: Would-be 'King Lear' has wit, courage, and an excellent cast, but a lame Jeremy Irons doesn't help

A young woman wants to cudgel Jeremy Irons to death. She's wildly thrashing with a big stick while he – ragged as a tramp – dodges to and fro behind a tree. Clearly, he's a rotter, and Joanna Horton's Barbara looks set to be his comeuppance.

The Gods Weep, Dennis Kelly's new saga for the RSC, is something like King Lear crossed with Enron – the West End's sardonic thriller about corporate shenanigans. At the outset, Irons's Colm is a sleek-suited businessman, cadaverous and faintly reptilian. The boss of a multinational, who alludes to his global operations as if they were satellite kingdoms, he suddenly announces he's dividing his empire but entrusting nothing to his son. Ruthlessly dismissing Luke Norris's feverish Jimmy as a soft touch – for loving his colleague Beth – Colm hands executive power to his cut-throat managers, Helen Schlesinger's Catherine and Jonathan Slinger's Richard. These two become viciously competitive. Meanwhile, their ex-boss goes demented, troubled by a guilty conscience, having destroyed Barbara's father years ago.

Alas, the principal letdown in Maria Aberg's production is Irons's lame performance, his bouts of madness particularly unconvincing. The drastic last-minute paring of the script doubtless hasn't helped him hit his stride, and to add insult to injury, the play's narrative momentum still slows to a snail's pace in the second half.

But then the mood is meant to be mellower. After the office machinations have surreally morphed into a savage armed conflict – all flak jackets and jugular-slashing knives – Colm and Barbara find themselves in a pastoral comedy. There they make their peace, share a makeshift tent, try to spear squirrels, and obsess over how to rustle a sheep before they starve to death.

The Gods Weep is weakest when it most closely echoes King Lear, struggling to vie with Shakespeare's poetry. Yet, for all its sprawling flaws, its ambition is impressive. Kelly has the courage to think big, and the piece is strewn with unnerving images. Especially memorable are descriptions of a devastated city where people sit behind bank counters or outside cafés, with faces blown away or flesh burnt black. Equally surprising flashes of satirical comedy lighten the mood. Two guerrilla fighters, munching on blood-spattered relics of Black Forest gâteau, discuss their former careers: "Futures and hedge funds." "No wonder you're so calm."

Irons finally hits a sweetly entertaining stride in the woods, making a pig's ear of hunter-gathering. Moreover, almost all the supporting cast are excellent, especially Schlesinger and Slinger: she ice-cool yet with a nervous energy, chain-smoking, watching like a hawk; he like some psychotic office nerd or dwarf cousin of Michael Caine, staring coldly through square-rimmed glasses.

In A Good Night Out in the Valleys, Kyle (Huw Rhys) is the capitalist invader. Prospecting for previously undetected minerals in a Welsh backwater, he's returning to his native land, surveying for a London-based corporation and planning to settle personal scores – until he falls in love.

Alan Harris's new play is also, significantly, the inaugural production for National Theatre Wales. Artistic director John E McGrath's new company aims to reinvigorate the Welsh theatre scene (with English-language productions) and serve as a flagship enterprise, with international scope.

What's most immediately winning about A Good Night Out, however, is its grass-rootedness. The show is set to tour miners' institutes and working men's halls (in Blackwood, Blaengarw and Bedwas), and the story centres on crumblies, couples and stroppy teens still gathering in these communal hubs to have a laugh and several pints, play bingo, swing punches, and sing.

Harris's play, loosely based on first-hand anecdotes, is a robustly humorous portrait of a small town, after the demise of the coal industry. But there is no danger of its rivalling Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. With its busy, role-swapping cast, few of its characters rise above caricature. Harris also waxes increasingly sentimental.

Nonetheless, the cast's bounce is heartily enjoyable, with Sharon Morgan bustling up and down the aisles hawking sausages, and Boyd Clack's drunken, lardy Prior chased off the premises in his Y-fronts. Angela Davies' set design – with kiltered platforms and video projections – is experimentally stylish, while the characters try to find the right balance between nostalgia and new developments.

Last but far from least, Sisters is a verbatim docudrama put together by actress Stephanie Street, drawing on interviews with British Muslim women. Ruth Carney's studio staging instantly appeals; it's a get-together in a chintzy sitting room, with Street, Denise Black and three other lively actresses who chat and hand out pakoras and cups of tea to the audience as if we're all family.

The material isn't sharply structured and may not be proportionately representative. Yet it presents a fascinating variety of voices – aged 19 to 60, British-Pakistani, -Afghan, -African and Caucasian, footballer, religious scholar, lesbian and transsexual. All contemplate or passionately argue their faith, the veil, patriotism, and sexism. Some of the stories of tyrannical fathers and arranged marriages are horrific. Yet what comes across are the family reconciliations, and a complex mix of segregation and integration, militancy and magnanimousness. This should tour.



'The Gods Weep' (020-7722 9301) to 2 Apr; 'A Good Night Out ...' (nationaltheatrewales.org) touring to 27 Mar; 'Sisters' (0114 249 6000) to 27 Mar



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve