Intense, absorbing storytelling as Faction brings thriller to Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre

Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley is a seductive, glossy, exotic, erotic exploration of a murderous mind – that could have been written today.

Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 11:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 11:48 am
Christopher Hughes
Christopher Hughes

The psychological thriller was released in 1955 but resonates in our materialistic age dominated by materialism, celebrity and its trappings of wealth and privilege.

When we first meet Tom Ripley he is small-time con artist in New York. He is approached by the father of Dickie Greenleaf .

He wants Tom to go to Mongibello on the Italian coast to talk his son into abandoning his aspirations to be a painter, return home and take up his place in the family boat-building business.

Tom soon insinuates himself into Dickie and his girlfriend Marge’s life – a round of lounging on the beach and sipping cocktails at sundown.

When Dickie starts to tire of Tom’s attention and announces his attention to spend Christmas away with just Marge – Tom acts.

He murders Dickie and steals his life and identity – keeping one step ahead of the police and Dickie’s friends by piling lie upon lie, deceit upon deceit and moving from place to place.

The game of cat and mouse – between the police and Dickie’s friends and family and Tom – intensifies to an nail-biting ending.

Faction – an associate company of the Stephen Joseph Theatre – presents this stage adaptation of Highsmith’s novel.

It is a sparse – a white platform with a hole in the centre so actors can slip out of view as necessary – set allowing the audience to concentrate on the story-telling.

That is exactly how it is in the book – the reader has to imagine the settings of the Italian coast, Rome, San Remo and finally across the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean to Greece (settings so seductive in the film version).

Respect has been payed to Highsmith – the adaptation is almost word for word of the book. The pace also sticks to the novel – it slow burns into an intense explosion as Tom’s paranoia and anger spirals into the stratosphere.

Christopher Hughes plays Tom – speaking his internal monologue of the book directly to the audience, seducing them with his hard-luck story and justifying his outrageous actions.

Scarborough’s Christopher York, the award-winning playwright of Build A Rocket which was premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, plays Dickie.

The two actors resemble each other physically which makes Tom’s morphing into Dickie all the more convincing – and creepy.

York’s Dickie is goodlooking and undeserving, self-centred and self-satisfied.

Hughes’ Tom is intense and schizophrenic – calm one second, murderously violent the next.

The rest of the cast – Andre Bullock, Emma Jay Thomas, Lachlan McCall, Marcello Walton and Sophie Spreadbury – multi-role including as the watchers and stalkers of Tom’s dangerous and troubled mind.

The Faction’s adaptation is faithful to the book – it is an exercise in intense and thoroughly absorbing storytelling.

The physicality of the performance is some times balletic and at others visceral.

The Talented Mr Ripley is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until Saturday February 29. Performance times are Wednesday February 26 at 7.30pm; Thursday February 27 at 1.30pm and 7.30pm; Friday February at 7.30pm and Saturday February 29 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.