Tag Archives: Joseph Prestwich

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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Velvet

Velvet

★★★

Above the Stag

Velvet

Velvet

Above the Stag

Reviewed – 4th October 2019

★★★

 

“As a monologue, it feels, at times, too much like someone reading a short story aloud”

 

Transferring from a successful Edinburgh Fringe run in 2018, ‘Velvet’ is an engaging, raw, and realistic portrayal of a young actor falling victim to someone willing to misuse their position of power. Written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe, it’s a complex and riveting engagement with the #MeToo movement, countering the usual newspaper narratives by showing a young gay man’s perspective.

Fresh out of drama school, Tom is a young actor looking for a break. His boyfriend Matthew is supportive, but ultimately waiting for Tom’s dreams to die. Tired of unstable “money-jobs” and unsuccessful auditions, Tom gets to know a casting director on Grindr who offers the actor a big break. Whilst we are all screaming “NO DON’T DO IT”, Tom finds out the price of being given a chance to star in a huge Hollywood film, and suffers the fall-out once that price is paid.

Ratcliffe gives a likeable performance as Tom, shifting between characters with comic speed and precision. With an intensely likeable character such as this, it’s truly sad seeing him treading a familiar but ultimately doomed path. By setting the majority of the action just before the #MeToo movement started, we see how vulnerable young people in the industry can be, and we understand the power of how that movement changed the way society and characters such as Tom view themselves.

Luke W Robson’s set design is lusciously simple. Chess board floor feels like a potent visual metaphor for actions having swift and irreconcilable consequences. A pinkish-red velvet chaise-longue becomes a zone of fake intimacy. On a screen at the back, we see the Grindr and WhatsApp conversations playing out in real time, with Ratcliffe having terse conversations with a deep, mysterious voice coming from the heavens. I loved these moments of “chat”. They felt filled with tension, both sexual and dramatic. I was less convinced by Tom’s more direct address to his audience. As a writer, Ratcliffe is a real talent, and his ‘Circa’ at the Old Red Lion this year was superb. This feels like a story in need of other characters, other actors, to flesh it out and give it the dramatic finish it deserves. As a monologue, it feels, at times, too much like someone reading a short story aloud.

That said, it is a rollercoaster of a story for Tom. Director Andrew Twyman draws out a nuanced performance from Ratcliffe, but again, the final moments feel a little rushed through, despite a nicely unexpected framing device coming back in for the final scene. Recommended certainly – and hopefully not the last we see of this intriguing play.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli

 

Above The Stag Theatre

Velvet

Above the Stag until 27th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Title Of Show | ★★★★ | February 2019
Goodbye Norma Jeane | ★★ | March 2019
Romance Romance | ★★★★ | March 2019
Queereteria TV | ★★ | April 2019
Fanny & Stella: The Shocking True Story  | ★★★★ | May 2019
Happily Ever Poofter | ★★★★ | July 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews