The Talented Mr Ripley at Wilton’s Music Hall
Award-winning theatre ensemble The Faction are known for shaking up the classics and giving them a thoroughly modern makeover, and their interpretation of The Talented Mr Ripley is no exception. Following a spell at the Vault Festival earlier this year – and a 2015 run before that – the production returns once more, offering a disturbing and frenetic glimpse into the mind of the con-artist and eventual murderer.
The piece has been adapted for the stage by Mark Leipacher from what is arguably American novelist Patricia Highsmith’s most famous work, and audiences will no doubt be familiar with the 1999 eponymous film version. You know the one; Anthony Minghella directs; Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow star; and Damon’s recognisable horn-rimmed glasses are preserved in celluloid for cinematic eternity. Much like the book and movie before it, the play follows serial fraudster Tom Ripley (played by Christopher Hughes) and his slow descent into madness after he meets Princeton grad Dickie Greenleaf (Christopher York) and develops an unnerving obsession with not just befriending but becoming him. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the Italian-set thriller guides us through a perverse tale of deceit, as seen through the eyes and mind of the increasingly unstable Ripley.
The falsity of all that is unfolding on stage is purposeful, never far from the audience’s minds; actors frequently call “Cut!” in the middle of scenes and reposition castmates, allowing new endings to transpire. While this does quite literally take us out of the performance, it’s nonetheless an interesting plot device and ultimately only serves to highlight the bogusness of what is occurring. This air of surrealism runs rampant throughout the production, with characters frequently becoming entirely different people within scenes, before reverting to who they previously were. In some cases, they even meld into one. A particularly memorable moment involves Hughes, York and Natasha Rickman (playing Marge, Dickie’s love interest). As breathy, coital moans play in the background to a crescendo, the three actors embrace in a slow-motion choreographed routine. Hughes positions himself behind York and as well as nodding to the underlying themes of homoeroticism, the scene further illustrates Ripley’s desire to be Greenleaf.
Hughes is integral to the piece, as Ripley is in near enough every scene. While the actor is certainly memorable and does have several strong moments, his performance is overall very, well, “shouty”. Much of his dialogue – both inward and outward – is almost screamed at the audience. While this works on occasion, the portrayal ultimately comes across more caricature than tortured. York’s Greenleaf is a highlight, flawlessly balancing the cavalier man-about-town persona, with the man gradually making the shocking realisation that his friend may have feelings for him.
Playing host to Leipacher’s production is the oldest grand music hall in the world, Wilton’s Music Hall. This is an inspired choice, as the stark surroundings provide the perfect contrast to the always animated Ripley. The staging is simple, consisting of a raised platform and a small stage below with a square fixed in the middle, which actors frequently both emerge from and disappear into. Chris Withers’s minimal lighting design mirrors Ripley’s psychosis well; a simple darkened stage and a spotlight works, and he knows it.
A gripping exploration into the mind of an unhinged master manipulator, The Talented Mr Ripley is right at home on the stage as well as the screen.
Photo: Richard Davenport
The Talented Mr Ripley is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 21st May until 25th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.