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The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Dennis Kelly's Royal Court debut is 'an energy-sapping biographical morality tale', says Michael Coveney

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Kate O'Flynn and Tom Brooke
© Manuel Harlan

The title of Dennis Kelly's new play proves a good deal more intriguing than the play itself, an energy-sapping biographical morality tale of a businessman who sells his soul in a deal, wrecks his own marriage and betrays his family in an over imaginative, fashionably self-pitying and distorted autobiography.

It's a glum, dogged and mostly humourless three-hour opening to Vicky Featherstone's regime - a far cry from Kelly's work as librettist on the RSC's Matilda musical - following the skittish unpredictability of her interim Open Court season. And although there's a deliberate date check of September 2013 as the point of no return and total recall, the play seems oddly unmoored in any recognisable contemporary setting.

One of the strongest traits in contemporary playwriting, alas, is the insistence on telling rather than showing, a style which isolates, or highlights, a story in an editorial narrative context. Kelly is prime exponent of this technique, the story of Gorge Mastromas related, at first, by the seven actors strung across the stage sharing the load.

This section, which takes us from the moment of Gorge's conception in 1972 through his school days and friendships, first love and marriage to the daughter of an industrialist, is flashily over-written but performed with a compensating bravura by the actors, who don't miss a beat or a cue for well over half an hour, baton-changing like fury.

At last, when the half-way scrim lifts and the actors are released from their straight line, we see Tom Brooke's moon-faced Gorge doing the dirty in the boardroom, succumbing to a take-over bid behind the boss's back, and wheedling his way by default to the top of a take-over pile. Enigmatically, we are asked if Gorge is imbued with goodness or cowardice, the choice emblazoned in capital letters on Tom Scutt's set.

The choric approach returns, with the silver-tongued Aaron Monaghan, once a notable Christie Mahon for Druid, the deft and decisive Pippa Haywood, and Alan Williams, master of the growing understatement, providing much of the cut and thrust. Kate O'Flynn peels away as Gorge's marital nemesis, as our old friends domestic violence and child abuse come marching through the front door of the play and blow it apart.

But even when Kelly and Featherstone really get down to brass tacks, in the bitter confrontation between Gorge and his brother (Jonathan McGuinness), the scene goes on for ever, and you sit in your seat editing the paragraphs as they trundle by.

The play was premiered in Frankfurt last year, which is odd, and a further indication of how so many of our playwrights have taken the German schilling. The play would have been different, and better, if aimed directly at the Royal Court audience.

See Also: Our 'Changing of the guard' interview with Vicky Featherstone