DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Talented Mr. Ripley – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Patricia Highsmith, adapted by Mark Leipacher
Director: Mark Leipacher

Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, is as much a study of the warped and damaged psychology of its anti-hero as it is a thriller. Tom Ripley cons his way into the life-style of the rich by agreeing to a businessman’s proposition that he go to Italy to persuade his errant son to return to the United States and responsibility.

Ripley has the smallest acquaintance with Dickie Greenleaf, the son, but persuades the father that he has influence with him. In Italy, he successfully befriends Dickie and his girlfriend Marge. Ultimately, seduced by the appeal of Dickie’s hedonistic life-style, Ripley identifies more and more with him and, when he feels the friendship cooling, kills Dickie and takes over his identity. Switching identities and locations at will, Ripley remains free of arrest, but not of his paranoia.
The Faction’s striking production is at pains to question the reality of the narration. Holly Pigott’s set consists of an acting platform with a hollow centre out of which actors pop up unexpectedly and into which they dive occasionally. Visible lights suggest a film set, as do the occasional interruptions of the action with shouts of “Cut!” and “Action!”. Across the back of the stage a medley of furniture and props (including a profusion of angle-poise lamps) seems to be waiting to be needed on set,
From the start there is a hallucinatory quality to the production. Ripley is facing away from the audience, tapping on a manual typewriter, when he looks round and asks, “Have you ever had the feeling that you’re being watched?” – and, sure enough, he is, by the audience and by six sinister figures in trilbies and long raincoats, no doubt conjured by his own diseased imagination. The question, often repeated, becomes the final line of the play.
Mark Leipacher’s fast-moving production seems to operate on different levels of reality, with cinematic cuts and sudden lurches from normal civilised conversation to furious or agonised yells, the whole ensemble (except Ripley) often menacing or mysterious in smartly synchronised moves.
It’s all exhilarating, but the first half narrative can be confusing – possibly deliberately, for the inside of Tom Ripley’s head can hardly be a very comfortable place! After the murder Ripley on the run gives a more coherent narrative and his identification with the dead Dickie Greenleaf produces some eerily effective moments as the two come together physically, entwine, separate and change identities.
In the centre of it all Christopher Hughes gives a compelling performance as Tom Ripley, the paranoia apparent even beneath the polite ex-college boy exterior, his moments of self-revelation dragged out of him in painful screams, chameleon-like with minimal changes of his conventional clothing.
Christopher York’s smugly superficial Dickie shares with Hughes the ability of the two to look identical or quite different. Sophie Spreadbury’s brightly sympathetic Marge brings a welcome touch of normality and Marcello Wilson impresses as Mr. Greenleaf Senior and an Italian police inspector. Andre Bullock, Emma Jay Thomas and Lachlan McCall complete a talented ensemble, doubling various parts and giving shape to Ripley’s inner demons.
With its choreographed moves and sudden synchronised explosions of light and sound, the production is anything but realistic, but then Highsmith’s Ripley has always had a remote connection with the real world.
Runs until 12th March 2020
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