“Do you like our new refrigerator?”
For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives.
Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact.
When Leipacher does get a little bit playful, with a kind of play-within-a-play conceit that allows him to run and rerun sequences through to different endings, I couldn’t help but feel it sat oddly with the production at large, used too sparingly to really impact on the storytelling as a whole and thus feeling a tad inconsequential. He’s much stronger in developing the visual aesthetic of the action – using literally all of the space in and around Suzie Foster’s platform-based set design and toying with different notions of perspective with scenes played out to the audience as well as behind the fourth wall.
Adam Howden’s Dickie is a marvellous cockily assured presence against Ripley’s innate awkwardness and with Natasha Rickman’s excellent, compassionate Marge complicating the romantic picture, their’s is a compelling set of characters that resonate strongly. None of the other supporting characters really get a decent look-in despite the good work all-around (Kate Sawyer’s comic cameos come as a blessed relief) so it’s fortunate that Hughes is so watchable as his Ripley judders through epic mood swings and accent changes, glides through obsequious masquerades to gull everyone around him, and never quite manages to hide the desperation that lies at his cheating heart. A mixed bag.