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 ...' ( touring to 27 Mar; 'Sisters' (0114 249 6000) to 27 Mar

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?