Dennis Kelly’s ‘The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas’ is the first ‘proper’ main house play of new Royal Court boss Vicky Featherstone’s tenure. But it feels like a hangover from her predecessor Dominic Cooke’s era that Featherstone – who directs – doesn’t quite know what to do with.
In actual fact, it has a near identical premise to Cooke’s last show, Bruce Norris’s ‘The Low Road’: both are blackly comic allegorical epics about the spiritually corrosive effects of capitalism upon a single man.
But Kelly’s wilfully static play feels claggy in comparison to the buccaneering hijinks of Norris’s romp. It’s really caught between being two different things: a macabre satire about Gorge (you pronounce it ‘George’), an unremarkable young man who goes on to become an amoral billionaire recluse; and a wry spoken word narrative on the same subject.
In the lengthy first half, Gorge as played by Tom Brooke seems like a decent sort of fellow: gawky, awkward and in love with Louisa (Kate O’Flynn). It’s only the lengthy, blackly hilarious interjections of a chorus that lead us to understand he is actually a monstrous bastard and financial fanatic – one of the play’s standout moments is a jaw-dropping reveal from the chorus just before his seduction of Louisa that’s as shocking as anything in Kelly’s violent Channel 4 smash ‘Utopia’.
It’s interesting that in the first half we only have the chorus’s word for Gorge’s dark side. But that apparent conceit is ditched later, when the chorus fades and it becomes clear Gorge is exactly as bad as we were told he was.
To be honest, this greatly improves the play, because it finally lets Brooke off the leash – he is an endlessly fascinating actor and is utterly compelling as a man hollowed out from the inside by his obsession with profit. Spidery in body and action, he scuttles across the stage and holds odd positions and strange, inscrutable expressions for too long as he half-heartedly tries to relate to various family members. He’s so enthrallingly weird and upsetting as to seem almost inhuman – the real monster at the end of this strange fairytale.
It’s a fascinating play that reads terrifically on the page. But for all the fine acting and nice dressing applied by Featherstone and designer Tom Scutt, there’s no getting away from the fact the story is stifled by the swathes of exposition. 'Gorge…' only realises its full stage potential when it turns down the talking and cranks up the acting.
By Andrzej Lukowski