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The Talented Mr Ripley (Northampton)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Identity theft is a hot topic in the 21st-century world of electronic data and internet fraud. But it provides the central theme for Patricia Highsmith’s dark novel about a twisted young man who resorts to murder.

I’m surely not giving anything away here, since film versions with Matt Damon and John Malkovich have made the story – and the character of Ripley – almost iconic. And here lies one of the problems facing playwright Phyllis Nagy with her adaptation: how do you transfer an essentially episodic, filmic narrative to the stage?

Her answer, reinforced by director Raz Shaw, is to use a number of stylistic devices, including having Ripley speak directly to the audience, overlapping scenes and cutting between conversations, and employing minimal sets and props.

The result is a fascinating mixed bag and extremely hard to review. There are moments of real tension and passages of tiresome exposition. There are characters with depth and dimension and others of cartoon simplicity.

At the heart of it is Tom Ripley himself, and here lies another problem. Ripley undergoes no emotional journey, his character is irredeemably unsympathetic and his range extends only between repressed anger and violent fury. The fact that Kyle Soller is utterly watchable says much, much more about this actor’s intelligent and dangerous performance than it does about the script he’s given to work with.

Soller is never off-stage throughout three long hours, even conducting his costume changes in full view and mid-speech. It’s something of a tour de force and a truly impressive lynchpin at the centre of the production.

Sam Heughan as the object of his obsession makes the best of a limp role, while Michelle Ryan – whose Hollywood credentials have been much exploited in the marketing – also puts in a couple of strong cameos, giving Soller plenty to play off.

It has already been suggested that this is a Marmite production – you’ll either love it or hate it – but I would modify that slightly. If the overall impression is of a rather tricksy, gimmicky staging of a story with limited dimensions, the performances themselves offer a great deal to intrigue and entertain.

- Michael Davies


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