Ensemble group The Faction return to Wilton’s Music Hall with a dark and psychologically intense production of The Talented Mr Ripley, written and directed by Mark Leipacher.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel but no doubt known to many of us as the 1999 film directed by Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr Ripley depicts the inner and outer life of Tom Ripley, a down and out 1950’s American who is looking for a change of luck. A chance encounter sees him sent to Italy to convince millionaire playboy Dickie Greenleaf to return home to his father, and the family business. This streak of luck, however, catalyses the destructive unravelling of Tom Ripley’s troubled psyche.
The references to Shakespeare (in particular Macbeth) depict Tom’s tale as one of ruthless, mercenary ambition and narcissistic desire. Like Macbeth, Tom’s impulses lead to murder and ever-increasing manic paranoia. Also like a (later-stage) Macbeth, his actions are not calculated but improvised – one lie, one action at a time.
As Tom, Christopher Hughes delivers an enjoyable performance that switches in and out of the action in order to grant us access to the character’s thoughts and memories. The dual conversations that are on show at the beginning of the play (Tom addresses the audience with asides as he opportunistically lies his way to Italy) work particularly well here.
The frame within a frame / play within a play structure is interesting but confusing. We know that Tom is ‘acting’: playing a part to impress, dazzle and manipulate. It therefore seems distracting to use further fourth-wall breaks to take us out of the moment, despite the scenes being executed well by the strong ensemble cast.
The Talented Mr Ripley is an unsettling tale, told with a light touch. What stands out about this production is its depiction of the psychology of the social climb, the fluidity (and complicity) of deceit. Through these themes, the play tacitly suggests how easily some can get away with what they do, if they know how to lie.