Theatre review: The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, Royal Court, London
Thursday 12 September 2013
For her first full scale production as artistic director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has chosen to direct The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas – a twisted, darkly witty morality fable about the evils of rampant, greed-is-good capitalism.
Already seen in Germany where it was originally commissioned, it's the latest stage work by the strikingly versatile (and uneven) Dennis Kelly, whose oeuvre ranges from the mischievously sharp and delightful book for Matilda, the Musical to the studiously sicko humour of Utopia, the violent, ingeniously paranoid TV conspiracy thriller.
In an introductory scene that takes up some thirty minutes of the three-hour running time, a seated chorus, in chatty, semi-bantering fashion, brief us (if that's the verb) on Gorge's early life – from the moment of conception in 1972 to his early 30s. They repeatedly ask whether his apparently virtuous decisions – siding with a loser friend at school, not pressurising a pregnant lover into an abortion etc – were the result of “goodness or cowardice”. Is behaving well just the playing-safe of weaklings?
That's the doctrine espoused by the sleekly ruthless Mephistophelean entrepreneur (Pippa Haywood) who claims to be able to stop time and see into the future. In a scene of devious boardroom temptation, she offers Gorge entry into an elite of the mega-rich and powerful “who have everything because they will do anything”, if he betrays his boss and abides by the golden rules of success which involve systematic, compulsive lying and a coldly cavalier attitude to the consequences.
Lantern-jawed and luminously gaunt like an escapee from a Bruegel painting, Tom Brooke is wonderfully compelling as the title's hero and Featherstone's skilful direction brings out all the creepy, slow-paced horror and queasy comedy in the encounters (mostly duologues) that demonstrate the diabolically deceitful lengths to which Gorge will go on his way up - and his trapped, tragic discovery that not everyone can be bought on the downward path into a hollow old age of loneliness and denial.
The fine cast double as characters and as the chorus on whose teasing commentary Kelly relies too heavily. It's true that the play is long-winded and over-explicit and that, even by the standards of fable, it feels deficient in specific political context. But there are sequences of shudder-inducing power – the heartless seduction of an abuse victim (excellent Kate O'Flynn) through chequebook research into her particular vulnerabilities; the resistance to bribery of the long-lost brother (Jonathan McGuinness) whose childhood Gorge retroactively destroyed by his flagrantly mendacious misery memoir. Featherstone directs these with a stealth and insight that bodes well for the future of her regime.
To 19 October; 0207 565 5000
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 #JeSuisEd: People share photos of themselves eating awkwardly in solidarity with Labour leader
- 5 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
General Election 2015: Sturgeon claims Scots 'appalled' by Ed Miliband's refusal to work with SNP