Writer and performer: Tom Ratcliffe
Director: Andrew Twyman
“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington” Noël Coward advised famously, but he could well have added “not your son either”. Tom Ratcliffe’s hour-long monologue, first seen at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, maps out some of the pitfalls awaiting young actors who are trying to make it in their chosen profession.
Directed by Andrew Twyman, Ratcliffe himself plays Tom, a sharp-tongued drama school graduate who is scrambling around auditions and playing bit parts for less than the minimum wage in fringe theatres. He relies on his partner of three years, Matthew, a strait-laced investment banker to help him along. He dreams of his big break, but believes naively that he can take the virtuous route towards achieving it. When a casting director invites him for drinks at his flat, Tom nervously declines and then fails to follow up on a suggestion of going for a coffee, even though he knows that, if he does not do what is necessary to get a part, some other actor will.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, alleged abuses of power in show business and other professions have been well publicised, but knowledge of the infamous casting couch goes back to well before that. Appropriately, a chaise longues is the only piece of furniture on stage with Ratcliffe throughout the show, as Tom details how he gets dragged into what he thinks of as “borderline prostitution”. His own mother encourages him to do what is necessary to achieve his goals, urging him only to stay safe.
The big decisions come when Tom makes contact on Whatsapp with an American called Daniel, who offers him big film roles in exchange for sexual compliance. We hear Daniel’s sinister voice over the telephone, with text messages and exchanged images projected on a screen. In comparison with some of the harrowing real-life allegations which have been reported, Tom’s experiences seem fairly innocuous, but they still highlight further the urgent need to expose all sexual predators who hold positions of power.
With the emphasis on gentle comedy, Velvet is lightweight fare, but the hour passes quickly and the likeable Ratcliffe finds an ironic twist to round it all off, bringing wry smiles over the state of the world in which we now live.
Runs until 27 October 2019 | Image: Lidia Crisafulli