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
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'