It isn't at all uncommon for parents and children not to like each other, to be consumed by rivalry and competition – yet you'd think, watching Marina Carr's new The Cordelia Dream as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Wilton's Music Hall, that this was a new, dramatic idea taut with possibility.
At least you would, if you weren't feeling as though you were stuck in a cheap motel room with plywood-thin walls, hearing a two-hour full-on domestic in the early hours of the morning.
This was quite the worst time I've had at the theatre in a very long while. About the only virtue of this production is that it makes the previous effort in the RSC's new play series, The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes, look good in comparison — at least that was an interesting failure. This is just endless, histrionic melodrama, two characters who spend most of the time screaming at each other — when the violins aren't doing the screaming for them.
An aged composer (David Hargreaves) has retired to a bedsit — well he hasn't got a bed, but sleeps on his piano — to attempt to realise his failed potential. His daughter (Michelle Gomez) comes to visit after a long absence, distressed and angry that the relationship has broken down because she's been more successful in the same career.
As the title suggests, reference is continually made to him as Lear and her as Cordelia — increasingly clunking references, at increasingly regular intervals. It's not so much allusion as thumping jackhammer have-you-noticed-yet-audience? repetition.
The plywood is all too real, in the form of an odd, entirely static set that entirely shuts out the glories of this romantically faded venue. The most movement that occurs in two hours is from the front to the back of the stage — occasionally.
Hargreaves isn't too bad, although his slide into dementia in the second act is less than convincing, while Gomez spends the entire length of the play as a screwed-up ball of unspecified strong emotion. They have little to work with, almost nothing to make the audience sympathise with their characters. There are, hidden away in the ponderous text, some potential lighter moments, but director Selina Cartmell seems to have been determined to squash these before an audience member could grab a bit of light relief.
Still, the main fault here has to be the script. A programme note says the playwright was "addressing themes that have long haunted her". That her father was also a playwright is unsurprising; that the author was wrestling with her own demons might be admirable, but please, not before a paying public.
The Cordelia Dream continues through 10 January 2009 at Wilton's Music Hall, London.