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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Cordelia Dream
Wilton's Music Hall Winter 2008-2009

Marina Carr's new drama, a commission for the Royal Shakespeare Company, is an attempt to filter a strained father-daughter relationship and the pains of the artistic impulse through the metaphor of King Lear and his beloved but doomed daughter.

It fails.

The main reasons for its failure are that Carr repeatedly and perversely keeps getting in her own way, and that she has found in Selina Cartmell a director seemingly determined to obfuscate things even further.

A father and daughter, both classical composers, meet after a long estrangement. Each accuses the other of somehow leeching on and blocking his or her talent, which the woman relates to a dream of herself as the dead Cordelia at her father Lear's feet. Five years later they meet again for further recriminations, but on that occasion one of them is a ghost.

And the first criticism to make of the play is that most of what I've just told you is withheld from the audience for far too long and for no clear reason. It isn't until a half-hour in that we're even told that these two people (identified only as Man and Woman) are father and daughter - both I and everyone I compared notes with at the interval had assumed up to that point that she was an ex-wife or mistress. It is midway through Act Two before we learn that five years have passed, and just short of the end when we learn that one of the figures before us is dead.

This deliberate mystification would be acceptable if it served some purpose, but it doesn't. It's just a lot of static interfering with our understanding of the play.

The same is true of the characterisations - the two figures jump, without transitions, from calm to rage, from haunted madness to clarity, and the actors, David Hargreaves and Michelle Gomez, do not seem to have found any core to their characters that can create the illusion of coherence.

All this is compounded further by director Selina Cartmell, who has her actors shouting speeches at each other without seeming to listen to each other, while lighting changes and music cues apparently meant to be meaningful seem to come at random.

I had a further list of complaints about Marina Carr's gratuitous obscurity, but a check with the printed text establishes that a totally unprepared-for flash of violence, the man smearing the woman's face with blue paint, and her putting on his clothes are all the director's additions, and don't ask me why.

And I suppose I do have to mention that the Lear connection is never really established and never really adds any symbolic resonances, nor do we really learn much about making music.

I will not criticise the two actors, who work very hard at making sense out of what they have to say and do, and at giving us the assurance that they, at least, do understand the play.

I don't demand that everything be spelled out, and I respond to writers like Beckett and Pinter who live in, and successfully communicate a world of ambiguity. But it is particularly frustrating to encounter a playwright and director who evidently do have something straightforward to say and choose to stand between it and us, blocking the way.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Cordelia Dream - RSC at Wilton's 2008