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The Cordelia Dream

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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This is a bold move by the RSC. Just as other theatre companies are dusting off their Christmas plays to give us something festive, the RSC has commissioned Irish writer Marina Carr for this deeply unsettling play on the theme of family breakdown.

Taking as its starting point the death of Cordelia towards the end of King Lear, Carr has fashioned a play that deals with family relationships, professional jealousies, dementia, impending death and the creative process. Carr does slightly overplay the Lear references, there are constant allusions to the play during the course of the evening – almost as if she was undertaking a challenge to fit as many in as possible.

The story is simple: a woman calls on an elderly man in a sparsely furnished flat. It’s apparent from the outset that there’s no love lost between them but after a time, it’s slowly revealed that they are father and daughter and that they’re both composers, with varying degrees of success. The title of the play comes from a dream that the woman (neither she nor the man is named in the play) has about the dead Cordelia, a title that is then appropriated by the man for a chamber piece.

Death seems to feature heavily in Carr’s work and she has a taste for the supernatural that emerges in this play too. That struck me as a rather unsatisfying element. In a play about the fragility of human relationships, it seems unnecessary to introduce a non-human touch.

The performers do the play justice. Michelle Gomez paints a vivid picture of a woman torn between love and hate; a woman desperate to do well by her father, while seething with resentment. David Hargreaves is equally strong as the father with no paternal desires, struggling to create his masterpiece, his swan song. Certainly here was someone who subscribed to Connolly’s dictum that the pram in the hallway is the enemy of good art but what Carr has left unanswered is whether the man has any true talent or not.

Selina Cartmell directs with a sure touch and composer Conor Linhan’s score enhances the work – always a challenge in a play about music.

This is a thought-provoking, if flawed, piece – just the thing to cast a pall over any projected family visits. It did make me wonder what the RSC would give us next Christmas to spice up the feast; Titus Andronicus anyone?

- Maxwell Cooter


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