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



Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower