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 until 27th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: