Dennis Kelly’s new play for the Royal Shakespeare Company starts promisingly enough with a modern day boardroom shakeup mirroring King Lear’s division of his kingdom in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Colm, the chairman, has decided to relinquish his role as CEO of the multinational company he ruthlessly built up, and hands over the reins to Catherine and Richard, whilst seizing back Belize, the one area previously handled by his ineffectual son Jimmy.

The resulting power struggle and underhand machinations are, at first, intriguing as Jonathan Slinger’s Richard reveals his true snake in the grass nature and Jimmy comes close to cracking up over an ill-judged affair with a married businesswoman.

But suddenly the boardroom table sinks to the ground, fatigues take the place of suits and the protagonists are jettisoned into a real war zone, with blood and guts and a rising body count.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, with a final section involving Colm’s post apocalyptic attempts to survive with the help of Cordelia-like Barbara, the daughter of a business rival he deliberately destroyed many years before.

Throw in a tedious astrologer, a problem with insurance, an apparently dead cat and a skewered squirrel and the result is an ambitious but trying piece of writing which just doesn’t cohere.

The battle scenes go nowhere, and there’s only so much mileage to be had from Colm and Barbara’s attempts to catch the local wildlife as they camp under a makeshift tent of leaf-covered plastic.

Jeremy Irons (perhaps viewing it as a dry run for Lear itself?) convincingly charts Colm’s decline from guilt-ridden corporate top dog to repentant old man in pyjamas, but neither his performance nor substantial cuts (from almost five hours to closer to three) is enough to rescue this unwieldy drama.



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