Writer: Patricia Highsmith (adapted by Mark Leipacher)
Director: Mark Leipacher
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
We have all dreamt of being someone else, trying a new life even just for a day. But what if you really could masquerade as that person, not exactly become them but pass yourself off as them in a canny impersonation. Suddenly the idea seems a little crazy, unnerving even. For Tom Ripley, the anti-hero of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, and now this theatrical version, the possibility of being able to bury his own personality and become Dickie Greenleaf instead is all too tempting.
Highsmith’s most famous novels examine male obsession in a way that goes beyond just stalking, and considers the nature of the psychological condition that drives it. Coincidentally both have been recreated for the London stage in the last couple of years, taking elements of the original novels and the two memorable films that followed; first a lacklustre Strangers on a Train, and now The Talented Mr Ripley which is part of the The Faction’s repertory season at the New Diorama.
The premise is a simple one Tom Ripley is sent to Europe to spy on an old College acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf but becomes close to him and his sort-of girlfriend Marge. As Tom’s admiration of his friend reaches perturbing levels his actions lead to appalling crimes and an astonishing opportunity.
As with The Faction’s version of Romeo and Juliet, it is the staging of this production that really catches the eye. All the action takes place on four tables arranged in a square with a hole in the centre, creating a versatile space that becomes both stage and prop at various points. In a memorable scene Dickie and Marge go sailing, using an easel to represent the helm and actors hold up white squares implying the sail – it is such innovative touches that make this such an interesting company to watch. Credit also to Chris Withers lighting design and Max Pappenheim on sound who brilliant create the various locations including Rome, the sea and New York.
Christopher Hughes is pretty good as Tom, moving from a repressed geek to a confident and sinister impression of Dickie, while showing the increasing frenzy in Tom’s mind – although sometimes the voice is too big for this little space and some of the words are lost. Interesting too in the second half that he seemed to feel little actual guilt for what he had done, just a fear of being found out. Adam Howden as Dickie is certainly confident and dismissive, but lacks the charisma or magnetism that is meant to draw people to the character. He’s more American jock than carefree playboy. Natasha Rickman doesn’t have very much to do as Marge, just be irritatingly concerned and persistent, but that’s the rôle.
While there are a lot of nice elements to this, boy is it long. At 2 hours and 50 minutes this is indulgently lengthy and the second half feels extremely repetitive, with the same bits of information being rehashed in different scenes. It’s great as a showcase for the actors, but tiring for the audience. At least 45 minutes could be cut to create a bit of drive and to reduce the flabbiness of Mark Leipacher’s adapted script. It could certainly do without the endless scenes of people getting changed.
The Faction is an inventive company and it’s fascinating to see how they tackle the staging of famous works, although perhaps they needn’t be quite so reverential to the scripts. There are things to enjoy here and it’s certainly thought-provoking, so enjoy the technical aspects and if you ever want to be someone else, maybe think again.
Runs Until: 28 February 2015 | Photographer:Richard Davenport