During this year’s Alistair Cooke memorial lecture, David Mamet said this: “All it is is two guys talkin’ to each other. That’s all that a play is, you know.” If you agree with Mamet then the only way of differentiating one play from another is what the guys talk about. In Marina Carr’s new work The Cordelia Dream, for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Wilton’s Music Hall, an old man and his middle-aged daughter talk about art, music, murder, incest, jealousy, fear, death, despair and destiny. Among other things. One or both or neither of them may be dead, a ghost, a dream, a figment of each other’s – or somebody else’s – imagination or all or none of the above.
That all sounds horribly postmodern and unwatchable but it is anything but. Carr’s play’s premise is an intergenerational war within a musical family where there isn’t enough ‘gift’ to go round. The old man, David Hargreaves, feels his daughter has stolen his genius and rendered it mediocre while she, Michelle Gomez, cannot fulfil her potential if her father remains in her way. The passionate arguments that are all that the play is run a little deeper than family squabbles over bedtimes and boyfriends but Carr’s piercing evocation of the damage that nearest and dearest can do to one another resonates, particularly at this time of the year, when too much cut price gin increases the risk of reopening ancient grudges between relatives.
In the first act the woman is compelled to visit and confront her father by a dream she has had of Lear and his daughters: hence the title. The second act sees her return five years later for the culmination of both their stories.
Fine performances from both actors are complemented by clever lighting, haunting live music and Wilton’s itself. The beautiful old music hall has seen its fair share of thwarted dreams and tragedy in 150 years. If it cannot be saved for posterity then it certainly won’t be the RSC’s fault.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Cordelia Dream is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 10 January. RSC listing.