Tag Archives: Elizabeth Chan

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]


Gate Theatre

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Gate Theatre

Reviewed – 8th October 2019



“Radical, bold, political, funny, scary, shocking, moving – a truly transformational night at the theatre”


‘Mephisto [A Rhapsody]’ is a vital piece of theatre for our times. Everyone needs to see this play. This French text, by Samuel Gallet, adapted from the novel ‘Mephisto’ by German Klaus Mann, effortlessly translated into English by Chris Campbell, has multiple layers of European history behind it, taking an overtly political stance on the contemporary cultural moment. The Gate Theatre has produced a piece that majestically puts its ‘Manifesto For Our Future’ into practice – is this now the most exciting theatre in London?

Gallet’s play follows the trajectory of Mann’s original novel fairly closely, with some crucial alterations. In a fictional provincial town, Balbek Theatre and its company are struggling to find relevance in turbulent political times. The far-right Front Line is on the rise, skirmishes are taking place in migrant camps, pigs-heads are being left outside their front door. Almost oblivious to the looming threat of fascism, company actor Aymeric Dupré (a sensational Leo Bill), all vanity and self-doubt, has his eyes on stardom.

Rather than selling his soul to the Nazi’s though, Gallet’s version of Hendrik Höfgen sells his soul to apathy. He just doesn’t care. When the right-wing actor Michael (a terrifying Rhys Rusbatch) turns against his company members, Aymeric only thinks about himself – and leaves for the capital. His career jets off, but the human, moral cost is clear.

Campbell’s translation is spot on, with contemporary, flowing language whilst keeping the usefully vague geography of the piece. But this production is so much more than the text. A post-interval addition told by Anna-Maria Nabirye (“the only black actor in the show”) interrogates our conceptions of race in theatre, and even the Gate Theatre isn’t left off the hook. One of the startling things about this production is the way it uses a story about actors to provoke theatres, theatre-goers and creatives into political action. We could be apathetic, we could do another Chekhov, or we could try and change the way our audiences think, feel and respond to the world around them. Are they preaching to the converted? Possibly. But how often do you go to theatre and leave actually wanting to DO something?

Basia Binkowska’s design keeps the backstage onstage, with lighting desk and costume rail visible until the surprising and tender ending takes us back in time to Klaus Mann’s hotel room. A golden fun-house mirror makes up the back wall of the stage, offering the audience distorted reflections of themselves and the actors on stage. Kirsty Housley has directed a company where there are no weak links. The action is kept simple, the audience frequently directly addressed, the text divided cleverly between actors/narrators. Housley also uses space masterfully, expansive gaps between characters as well as closeted crowds in ways that make the empty stage seem anything but.

I have slight reservations about the ending of the play, which doesn’t add much to the two hours of theatre before, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the power of this production. ‘Mephisto [A Rhapsody]’ is something special. Radical, bold, political, funny, scary, shocking, moving – a truly transformational night at the theatre.


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Cameron Slater


Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Gate Theatre until 26th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dear Elizabeth | ★★ | January 2019
Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta | ★★ | May 2019


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Into the Numbers – 4 Stars


Into the Numbers

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 4th January 2018


“the play explores with sophistication philosophical arguments about the human psyche and behaviour”


Genocide, suicide and depression, feature heavily within Into The Numbers, making this a night of difficult yet powerful viewing. It’s certainly not for those who like their theatre brimming with light-hearted fluffiness. Making its European debut, Into The Numbers commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre in China, whilst coinciding with the Finborough Arms’ 150th anniversary year. As the title and anniversaries suggest, numerical figures are a key feature to this harrowing play, which explores the toll it has on one person who carries the burden of acknowledging hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In the December of 1937, Nanking, the capital of China at the time, suffered one of the worst genocides of the 20th century, perpetuated by the hands of the Japanese army. Around 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers were raped, tortured and murdered in the most brutal and barbaric manner imaginable. Flash forward to 2004, American author and journalist Iris Chang, who won critical acclaim for her book The Rape of Nanking, which brought the Chinese atrocity back into public recognition, committed suicide at the age of just 36.

Into The Numbers begins in the form of an authentic lecture and interview with Iris Chang (played by Elizabeth Chan), but soon spirals into a chaotic cacophony between real life and the surreal, as ghosts of the Nanking Massacre begin to haunt Iris. Deeply disturbed yet devoted to her research, the psychological effects of investigating genocide prove to be a fatal one for Iris, as the horrors she unearthed help prompt her gradual mental breakdown and ultimately, her tragic death.

Written by multi-award winning American playwright Christopher Chen, the play explores with sophistication philosophical arguments about the human psyche and behaviour. Particularly, how the incessant images of terror that saturate the media effects us, as well as, whether our fascination with blood and brutality is part of our human makeup.

As mentally and emotionally draining as it is to sit through, it is refreshing to see a production that is so intellectually stimulating. Elizabeth Chan gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Iris, slowly deteriorating into a frenzied state, succumbing to her existential nightmares. Timothy Knightley equally gives a notable turn, multi-roling between playing Iris’ husband, doctor and interviewer. Unfortunately scene changes at times feel clunky and abrupt, due to these two actors hardly leaving the stage, and Knightley having to awkwardly jump from one character to the next in the blink of an eye. However, this is only a marginal grumble for a play that is enlightening and leaves you overwhelmed by the gumption Iris Chang possessed in her fight for recognition of the Nanking Massacre.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Scott Rylander


Into the Numbers

Finborough Theatre until 27th January



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