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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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Mrs Dalloway – 4 Stars


Mrs Dalloway

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 1st October 2018


“a creative and sophisticated production”


Hal Coase’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ opens with a meta-theatrical “pre-amble” as Emma D’Arcy and Clare Lawrence Moody tell us where they live in London and when they first read ‘Mrs Dalloway’. It is a bold and exciting beginning that plays with form, just as Woolf does.

It is the story many know so well, of course. Across a single day in London in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway (Clare Perkins) is getting ready for a party, a party that she will be hosting tonight. At the same time, Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of the First World War is struggling desperately to separate fantasy and reality, and is looking for help amongst the very people who will later be Clarissa’s guests. It is no easy feat to adapt, but Coase has done a brilliant job, and under Thomas Bailey’s highly capable direction, moments of internal thought and external conversation are wittily punctuated and communicated.

As well as performing in the piece, D’Arcy is the joint artistic director of theatre company Forward Arena and is responsible for the design of all their productions to date. For Mrs Dalloway, this is simple, aesthetic and sophisticated. A blue patch of sky on the back wall is later joined by another patch of sunset. Cream costumes blend into a curtain. Portable cassette players create the bustling sound of London, an overlapping soundscape of people. Bailey creates the party scene with a row of microphones, a cramped panel setup that is highly evocative. Occasional nods to modernity in the form of an iPhone and an Oyster card could work, but stand alone as they are, they feel lacklustre.

The production boasts some wonderful performances. Moody is particularly good. She has a liveliness and a playful energy that she brings to each role in turn. Guy Rhys as Septimus lacks depth and is unfortunately unconvincing meaning the emotional impact of his plight has limited effect. He is, however, the only weak link in an otherwise strong cast.

This is a creative and sophisticated production on all fronts, well crafted and beautifully delivered.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Ollie Grove


Mrs Dalloway

Arcola Theatre until 20th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Heretic Voices | ★★★★ | January 2018
Fine & Dandy | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Daughter-in-Law | ★★★★ | May 2018
The Parade | ★★★ | May 2018
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives | ★★★★★ | June 2018
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018


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