A taut physical theatre take on the psychological thriller
'The Talented Mr Ripley' is back for a run at Wilton's Music Hall in May 2019. This review is from August 2015.
Like ‘Big Brother’, Christmas and The Mack, the return of the Faction is inevitable. The rep theatre company’s season at the New Diorama has become an annual event, but rather than retreating into predictability, it is thriving. This year, that’s in no small part due to Mark Leipacher’s excellent adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 thriller novel. It’s a dark, exciting journey through one man’s murderous mind.
Most people will know the plot, having seen the 1999 film with Jude Law and Matt Damon. The tale of murder and impersonation has the penniless, nervy Tom Ripley befriending Dickie Greenleaf and his friend Marge in Italy, but Ripley quickly begins to covet his new friend’s charisma and money. This adaptation lays bare Ripley’s cracking mind: we see the increasingly unstable man, where his friends do not.
The production hinges on the performance of Christopher Hughes as Tom, who barely leaves the stage. He’s superb, at first just a little kooky and unsure of himself, but soon becomes frightening: a large, gurning smile continually crossing his lips. But he never loses a shadowy sense of vulnerability.
In the second half, the plot twists and turns as Tom dodges police throughout Italy – a section that drags on too long. But generally, adapter-director Leipacher’s tense, often abstract staging runs at a high pace. The stage is filled by a large white elevated square with a hole in the centre; the action happens on top of it and beside it, and objects and people pop up from its middle. Leipacher regularly breaks the tension with calls of ‘Cut!’ and, as if on a film set, they rerun part of the scene, often arriving at a different ending. It’s a conceit which works, it raises the energy and varies the tone. Chris Withers’s lighting design also adds to the atmosphere and there are some brilliant moments with towering shadows on the black back walls.
This is yet another bold achievement for a very talented ensemble.