What do you get if you cross King Lear with Richard III and throw in a fistful of Macbeth too? The answer is running at the Hampstead Theatre in the form of the Dennis Kelly's epic, the latest in the RSC's London Season. And while for much of this three-hour play you may suspect you would be better off watching Shakespeare's originals, the sheer drive of Maria Aberg's production, and the utter bravura of Jeremy Irons's central performance as the Lear-like Colm, keeps the doubts at bay.
What it would have been like to sit through the uncut five-hour version that Kelly delivered to the RSC does not bear thinking about. Even in this truncated state, Kelly's three acts – let us call them Corporate, Conflict and Country – would have benefited if the savage smiting that forms the backbone of the play had been directed at the text.
Similarly to Lear, Colm divvies up the wealth of his modern multinational in a way that sows his destruction. The beneficiaries are two ruthless execs, Catherine (Helen Schlesinger) who has the ambition of Lady Macbeth, and Richard, played by Jonathan Slinger who was the RSC's most recent, and possibly most entertainingly psychotic Richard III. Those who missed that production should catch this one, if only to see Slinger's character descend on his enemies like a one-man plague.
Richard and Catherine go to war, first in the boardroom then on the battlefield. It is as if the RSC had thrown some of its best writers' most famous killers on to one stage. Hollywood did it with Alien vs Predator
Caught between these foes is Irons's once-ruthless Colm who attempts to find his humanity, while his failing son Jimmy (Luke Norris) attempts to lose his. In three hours I do not think there was one new idea. But, like many a blockbuster, the result is satisfying if not memorable.