The decrepit and crumbling theatrical monument that is Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect setting for a play about patriarchy, family feuds and death, inspired by King Lear.
The play is two difficult encounters between an unnamed Man and Woman (played by David Hargreaves and Michelle Gomez.
These encounters take place in his grotty bedsit, which contains only a grand piano, stool and a coat hook.
The couple are estranged, but the woman has sought him out after having a dream of Cordelia and Lear in which the patriarch carries the body of his youngest daughter after her death. In the dream, she is Cordelia and he is Lear, but his grief has been replaced by glee over her death: “You say howl, howl, howl but it’s the way you say it. Brazen, cynical, triumphant.”
This opening gambit giving the first clue to their true relationship.
Father and daughter are both composers and rivals. Each has had a differing level of artistic success and resents the other to a level that can only be described as pure hatred. He feels she is very mediocre and her success unjustified. She is not worthy of inheriting his crown despite limited critical acclaim. I am a genius. A genius! And you are a charlatan! A charlatan who stole my gift when I wasn’t looking.
She feels he misunderstands modern times and her success is something to be proud of. He is wasting his talent: “You, who haven’t finished anything for years. she says.
This is a painful and damaging relationship for father and daughter, and will eventually have awful consequences for both. Like the aging Lear, he is inconsolable with rage that she will not give in to his will. Unlike Cordelia however she is not well loved: “You think you are Cordelia to my Lear. No, my dear. You’re more Regan or Goneril spun.
Angry and resentful about the fact that he has never loved her, she lashes out with venom. Explaining the effect his hatred has had on her she says: “All the clichs say hate is merely love twisted. I disagree. There is such a thing as pure hatred. Like you feel for me. It is very difficult to be so hated.”
He is all together more dark and unpleasant than Shakespeare’s King, wanting her not to inherit his composing ‘crown’ but to be silent so he can achieve his rightful position as ‘King’. Both blame the other for their current creative block but only she is willing to sacrifice.
The second half takes a surreal turn, taking place five years later. The father is blind with madness thanks to the onset of dementia. He does not recognise her and talks about being chased around by his dead wife on a broom-stick and the ‘dog-hearted’ one who hides under the piano (another nod to her true place in his heart). We are left wondering as to whether he has been driven mad by the inability to accept he is no longer King, or simply by age and alcoholism.
The dialogue loses focus a little at points but the play progresses to a distressing conclusion. In the end it is she who has the last word. We are left stunned and contemplative of the complicated nature of the parent and child relationships and the sacrifices made in the pursuit of art.