The Talented Mr. Ripley is 60 years old. Continually popular, Patricia Highsmith’s superb novel has now been brought to the stage by The Faction Company. The work of director Mark Leipacher, this is a sterling adaptation, focused on Tom Ripley’s inner life, exploring his murderous adoption of Dickie Greenleaf’s identity, and dramatising his spiraling actions in thrilling fashion. It’s a respectful affair, arguably slightly too long, but eminently theatrical. Ripley wanted to be an actor after all and he’s a consummate performer – continually adapting roles and using fantasy to project himself into other lives – it makes sense to see him on stage.
Leipacher’s direction is bold and inventive. A bare, square, raised platform with a pit at its centre is superbly lit by Chris Withers and serves as a base for the cast to perform on, around and under. Scenes are ‘cut’ and restaged, a neat disorientation device taking us inside Ripley’s fraught imagination and adding tension. The Faction make for a strong ensemble with Adam Howden suitably charismatic as the wealthy Greenleaf heir and Christopher Tester sternly convincing as his father (in spite of being too young for the role). There’s also a subtle performance from Natasha Rickman as Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge.
The script emphasizes Ripley’s insecurities. A fair choice: Ripley is one of those fictional characters complex enough to merit varied interpretations. Like Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film, this Tom feels inferior, “incompetent” even, far from Highsmith’s accomplished anti-hero. And in this demanding title role, Christopher Hughes is fantastic, delivering the complex plot and emotions with dynamism and a fitting shrillness. He is particularly strong when evoking Ripley’s paranoia, making the most of the venue’s intimacy. One of the joys of a fringe show is seeing an actor destined for big success: I have no doubt we will see a lot more of the talented Mr. Hughes.
Until 28 February 2015
Photos by Richard Davenport