Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by The Faction

The Talented Mr. Ripley is something of a departure for The Faction, being more modern than their usual source material, and also an adaptation, by Faction Artistic Director Mark Leipacher, of a novel by Patricia Highsmith. But the choice of subject is not the only departure for this New Diorama Associate Company. One is used to seeing The Faction perform on a bare stage, but in this production the space is dominated by a raised square platform, painted white and filling the black box space, with only a small corridor around the outside and a square pit in the centre. Gone, too, is The Faction’s fluid, shifting ensemble – the whole weight of this production rests heavily on the shoulders of Christopher Hughes, who plays the creepily obsessive Ripley.

Hughes’ performance is, quite simply, stunning. He captures beautifully the awkward, almost autistic nature of Ripley’s loneliness and obsession, while still demanding the audience’s empathy and admiration, taking us with him on Ripley’s heart-stopping journey of murder and deception, allowing us to enjoy his game of cat-and-mouse with the police and his victim’s friends and family, while leaving us hoping, throughout, that he won’t get caught. Subtle, nuanced and totally engaging, Hughes’ interpretation of the character is masterful and complex, controlling the energy and pace of the production to perfection. And his imitation of his victim’s voice and speech patterns, on which the second half of the play relies, is pretty amazing too.

The brilliance of Hughes’ performance is matched by Leipacher’s adaptation, letting Ripley share his paranoia, fears and obsessions with the audience in a way that seems totally natural and yet enhances the strangeness of his thought processes. The adaptation also captures beautifully the moments of crisis where Ripley, his mind working at lightning speed, considers his choices through the clever device of an imaginary film crew popping-up, shouting ‘Cut’, resetting the scene and allowing him to play it differently until he reaches his chosen resolution.

The lighting design by Chris Withers is equally stunning, working beautifully with the set and Max Pappenheim’s subtle sound design to evoke the heat of the Italian sun and the coolness of the water lapping beneath the raised stage. In fact, the only fault I can find with the piece is that it is quite long, at two and a half hours plus interval, and yet at no point does it drag, so well-judged are both the adaptation and the performances.

Many of the audience will not have read the book and their only reference will be the 1999 film, starring Matt Damon. This production is far better, not only because it avoids the Hollywood-driven semi-come-uppance of Ripley’s murder of his one love at the end of the story, which had no place in the novel, but because it allows the audience into Ripley’s mind in a way the film never did, thereby making the character so much more interesting, and the audience’s dismay in liking such an appalling creature so much more poignant.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of The Faction’s best productions to date and it’s on at the New Diorama Theatre, in repertoire with Schiller’s Joan of Arc and Romeo and Juliet until 28th February. If you only see one show this Spring, I would recommend this one. It’s definitely a five-star production!

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