I love going to the Royal and Derngate. Such variety. Such good value. A friendly, creative environment where anything can happen. That’s not particularly relevant to my thoughts about The Talented Mr Ripley, but I thought I’d state my case anyway.
It’s not often you get a story about someone who is completely without any redeeming features. Tom Ripley is first seen posing as a taxman, terrorising some poor pap who didn’t pay enough of his debt to the state. But it’s the power that enthrals him more than the financial gain, as he patterns delicate cigarette burn holes in the cheque he has fraudulently obtained rather than trying to bank it. If he goes on a journey – and I’m not sure he does really, he’s a bad bastard at the beginning and a bad bastard at the end – I guess he moves more towards the financial gain aspect of his machinations.
Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know the story. Ripley establishes his badness credentials by hoodwinking an old/sick couple to send him to Italy in an attempt to track down their missing son Ricky so that he can return to the US before his mother dies. Ripley quickly tracks him down; falls in love with him (or not – you decide); manipulates him out of love with his girlfriend; ingratiates himself in his affections; then bumps him off in a boat and takes on his identity. Meanwhile another guy Ricky knows in Italy smells a rat, and in attempt to find out where Ricky has gone also gets himself bumped off by Ripley. The girlfriend retires hurt, like a gracious cricketer; Ricky’s parents decide to bestow all their worldly goods on Ripley instead of Ricky; and Ripley lives happily ever after.
It’s a thoroughly nasty story. Ripley is a thoroughly nasty person; but to get away with it the character must have a Charisma As Big As The Ritz. Although technically I thought Kyle Soller as Ripley gave a faultless performance of a very demanding role, I personally couldn’t see his charisma. He portrayed Ripley much more as the conniving weaselly little s**t that he really is. He was particularly sinister when laying out Ricky’s clothes and assuming his appearance. But if I were Ricky, I would never have trusted him.
There were some excellent performances from other members of the cast – Sam Heughan as Ricky credibly showed all aspects of his personality – the all-American sports hero, the guy who likes to have a good time with his mates, the weak-willed potential rapist (a nasty scene if ever there was one), the guy who was under-prepared for surprise attacks by the person who he thought he could trust.
Michelle Ryan, too, very good as Marge, the wronged girlfriend – and possibly even better doubling up in the minor role of Sophia the prostitute who nearly gets raped. Nice to see Chris Ravenscroft again, once sidekick to TV’s Detective Inspector (“there bin a murder”) Wexford. Not overly convinced by his performance as Ricky’s father, but very effective as the Italian detective who’s just beginning to suss out Ripley’s guilt – a cross between Columbo, Morse and Topo Gigio.
But, you know, there are problems. Boy are there problems.
The end of act one has a most ingenious way of showing the boat on which Ripley and Ricky go further out to sea, and from whence only one of them would return. But – really – the “fight” between them was choreographed as balletically hokily as you could imagine and I found it laughable. It was the least convincing stage fight I have ever seen. I was waiting for the handbags to come out. And then there was a video projection which (I assume) was to convince the audience that two people were struggling underwater and one of them was drowning. Hmmm. Sometimes the imagination can work much better.
Another problem was the ending. If ever a play ended with a whimper and not a bang, this is it. Possibly because Ripley never gets a well-deserved come-uppance, one feels really deprived of a proper denouement. His aunt has come out to see him in Italy and is droning on about something boring – a hideously boring speech. Now – this is a long play. Too long. I don’t think I fell asleep. Very hard to do so from Row B of the stalls because you feel (normally) so involved in what’s going on. But maybe I did, as during the course of this speech my brain decided it had had enough and didn’t want to follow it any more. So I thought to myself I’d let this bit pass, and then catch up with the story in the next scene.
Only there was no next scene. The boring speech ends, and so does the play. Having tuned out, I was suddenly rather freaked by the fact that it had all finished and I hadn’t noticed it. And I don’t think I was alone in that thought in the audience. It took a long time for the applause to start up – I think there was a mutual feeling of “That can’t be the end, can it???” and then I have to say I thought the applause was tepid and short-lived at best. Shame because it was a hard working cast who deserved more.
The play would definitely be improved with a few cuts – probably a bit of a re-write really, to prune it back by about half an hour. A lot of the dialogue at the beginning of the play was very stilted and unnatural. It didn’t really pick up until Ripley arrived in Italy.
So – in brief – a lot of effort, a lot of effective sinisterness, some good staging ideas, but with a feeling of overall disappointment at the end. At times this could have been a four-star show; but on reflection it’s more of a plucky two-star than solid three-star. Pity.