Tuesday, March 16, 2010

[reviewed for The Public Reviews]
Cut to the Chase 
at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

His talents are evident early on. He sits in his modest New York flat, conning a poor cartoonist on the other end of the phone into sending him a tax cheque. He has an answer for everything, does Mr Ripley.
His story is familiar through the Fifties novel, a Sixties art house film from France, and of course the Minghella movie.
In Bob Carlton's assured production, we see him constantly re-invent his past, befriend the gilded playboy Dickie Greenleaf [a coolly charming Elliot Harper], steal his ring, and his words, become a better artist, a better son, and, we guess, a better lover.
Marcus Webb is more Matt Damon than Alain Delon, but he successfully captures the heartless outsider who comes to realise he can never return home. The scene with Harper recalling a soccer match, the confrontation with Freddie Miles [Sam Pay] were both beautifully played.
Sam Kordbacheh gave two Italian cameos, and Simon Jessop was excellent as Greenleaf Senior and a cynical, suspicious investigating officer. Karen Mann played the ailing mother and the garrulous Aunt Dottie.
The production's design helps the mood: Mongibello, a world of “Blue sea, white sand and sun that always shines”. The staging suggests a pool and the ocean without ever being literal, and locations are flagged with posters. Greenleaf's daubs are prominently displayed. Dramatic effects, not all as clichéd as the blood-red light for the murders, include a mirror for Ripley to mimic Dickie, a stylised motor boat with a huge compass card behind it, and a clever flashback with a twist. Time is telescoped as girlfriend Marge [an elegantly vapid Francesca Loren] drifts in and out. Costume subtly suggests period and lifestyle, with a particularly evocative swim-suit for Marge. And of course, Ripley, born to fill Dickie's shoes, gradually adopts his wardrobe along with his persona.
The strong, if somewhat unsatisfying ending [the novel was the first of a series] has Aunt Dottie recounting a dream very similar to the one Ripley shares at the beginning of Act One. But he hears none of it, stock still in his own world of silence and paranoia.
One of the strengths of the story is that it tends to stay with you – no wonder Patricia Highsmith felt drawn to bring her anti-hero back. The same is true of this production; it often felt like a chamber opera with its arias, duets and ensembles, its themes and variations. I guess half the audience knew at least the gist of Ripley's story, and that he's condemned to live happily ever after under cover. But it's good to see it played out again, especially so stylishly: the rape, the razor, the rich but restless Tom Ripley ...  
the photograph upbraids me for not alluding to the homoerotic subtext, most explicit in the flashback to the killing, but present in so many of these stylish scenes ...                                            
this review first appeared on The Public Reviews

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