Dennis Kelly has created a dark, brooding play which explores the consequences of power and greed on loyalty, friendship and love.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Gods Weep centres on Jeremy Irons’s aging businessman Colm, who decides to cede control of the company he has built to two of his senior employees, Catherine and Richard. But in keeping a small part of the company’s business for himself – taking it out of the hands of his ineffective son Jimmy – he inadvertently instigates a coup against him from the very people in whom he invested power. Driven mad by their betrayal, he is found and cared for by the daughter of a former rival, whose history is entwined with his own.
The Gods Weep is a tale of two halves, and Naomi Dawson’s set is crucial in making the stark distinction. With the audience seated on two sides of the stage, Dawson has a square set to play with. At first, it is a brusque, cold boardroom, with a marble slab for a table around which Colm’s board members meet. A backdrop of mock metal panels features a cutaway which becomes a balcony where his employees meet to smoke and plot, overlooking a tree landscaped into the office grounds.
In Act Two this set is transformed into a battleground where the various factions created by Colm’s divisive decision descend into guerrilla warfare. The marble table becomes a killing ground and the tree serves as the forest through which two sets of armed soldiers stalk, led by Catherine and Richard, who are now bitter enemies. Colm, it seems, has created his own nightmare.
Irons, as Colm, portrays a man driven mad by his own ball-breaking behaviour. In the twilight of his life he is tormented by remorse for his tyrannical treatment of a former rival whose life was destroyed. At the time his conscience was little bothered, but now, as his survival depends on the kindness of his rival’s surviving daughter Barbara, he is obsessed with what he did.
Kelly creates a redemptive journey for Colm, who is humanised by the chaos that results from his decision to divide his business. But apart from the relationship between Colm and Barbara, Kelly paints a bleak, harrowing picture of a society torn apart and made animalistic by greed and power.
There are strong performances from Helen Schlesinger and Jonathan Slinger as Catherine and Richard, who are as manipulative, backstabbing and power-hungry as each other. John Stahl is the bear-like Castile, Colm’s right hand man, who shows loyalty even if he is lacking the skills to mediate the situation, and Luke Norris is Jimmy, the obsessive, disturbed son who shows weakness can be as dangerous as strength.
Like the calm in the middle of a storm, Joanna Horton’s Barbara teaches Colm that true power comes from kindness and forgiveness.