The Talented Mr Ripley
Reviewed – 13th March 2019
“a bold, thought-provoking and inventive interpretation, coated in a dark tale but chock-a-block full of neat little treats”
Walking back to Waterloo Station after the show, I am approached by two moderately well-dressed gentlemen emerging from the crowds. I try to glance away, not look back; seized with a panic. There is a telephone booth half a block away, and two streets further on is the station; but the men’s shadows overtake me before I can step off the kerb. I try to quicken my pace. “Excuse me, Sir”. I freeze…
A playful exaggeration, maybe, of the after-effects of witnessing the Faction’s “The Talented Mr Ripley” at the Vaults Festival (the two men turned out to be evangelists from a nearby church) but my mood was an authentic reflection of how skilfully the play captures the cat-and-mouse psychological obsessions that fuel Patricia Highsmith’s original novel. The stakes remain high throughout the rapid-fire ninety minutes, yet Mark Leipacher’s excellent adaptation also manages to relieve the tension with high doses of humour.
Tom Ripley, a needy, nervous chancer is approached by Herbert – the wealthy father of a half-remembered acquaintance – to travel to Italy to bring back his wayward son, Dickie. Ever the opportunist, Ripley smells a quick buck and agrees. We follow Ripley to Italy, and beyond, on his murderous journey as he befriends, covets and becomes his new friend. The plot twists and turns as fast as the cast switch characters: a whirlwind – at the centre of which is the talented Christopher Hughes, whose Ripley never leaves the stage. Hughes gives an outstanding rendition of the chameleon character, slipping back and forth from obsequious buffoonery to manipulatively gaining the upper hand; all the while looking over his shoulder.
Although his is the pivotal role, he wouldn’t function without the precise and stylish, level playing support from the whole ensemble cast. Moments of physical theatre suspend the action while giving us a clear insight into the psychology of the characters. Shadowy gangsters in gabardines and fedoras become Ripley’s conscience, while in the later scenes Ripley’s moral compass is steered by the ghost of Dickie – a magnetic performance from Christopher York. Cries of “Cut!” occasionally interrupt a scene so it can be rewound and replayed with a different outcome: highlighting the fact that Ripley’s fate is governed by indecision, rather than a calculating criminal mind.
A large white raised platform, sunk in the centre, dominates Frances Norburn’s set design, behind, through and under which the characters appear and disappear. You never quite know where the next surprise is coming from. One of the biggest surprises, though, is the size (or rather smallness) of the cast. Jason Eddy, Vincent Jerome, Natasha Rickman, Emma Jay Thomas and Marcello Walton complement the two protagonists with their multi-rolling giving the illusion of a much larger company.
This is a bold, thought-provoking and inventive interpretation, coated in a dark tale but chock-a-block full of neat little treats. Cut down in size to fit the scheduling constraints of the VAULT Festival it loses nothing of Highsmith’s thrilling drama. On the contrary, the forced focus distils the narrative into a beautifully condensed and refined production.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography courtesy The Faction
The Talented Mr Ripley
Part of VAULT Festival 2019