Vaudeville Theatre (venue)
07 July 2017 (released)
07 July 2017
Oh it’s good to laugh at artists, with their lofty ambitions and crippling self-doubt. And who better to laugh at play-writes than a play-write, and what better moment to debate the absolutely subjectivity of a good play than in the theatre with a bunch of critics rehearsing their killer lines in the stalls.
Daniel Kehlmann, though relatively unknown in the UK is a successful novelist, poet, screen-writer and now play-write in his native Germany. With Christopher Hampton’s superb translation, The Mentor feels distinctly English, or perhaps it’s just a reminder that there’s no great divide between us Europeans.
F Murray Abraham (now seventy seven and looking great) plays Benjamin Rubin, who had one huge hit play in his twenties and is well aware that he’s never written anything that good since. Needing the ten thousand euros on offer, he arrives at a gorgeous looking country house to spend a week mentoring young play-write Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman), hailed as ‘the voice of a generation’ for his play ‘Without a Title’.
F Murray Abraham with decades of theatre, an Oscar for Salieri and TV fame for his role in The Homecoming is a pleasure to watch, switching between enormous arrogance and devious manipulation. He enrages Martin and attempts to seduce his successful wife Gina who runs a large art gallery and is the only reasonable character among them. Meanwhile Jonathan Cullen as arts administrator and frustrated painter is particularly convincing as he desperately proffers his mobile with images of his work for Gina’s approval. What sort of things to you paint? ‘Oh…Moods’ he says, trying to sound casual.
Is Benjamin Ruben jealous of youth knocking at his door? Could the dreadful lines we hear from Martin’s play actually amount to something brilliant? Is living a creative act that can be ripped up or drowned in a pond should we so choose? And of course, uncertainty is the only certainty. The characters are entirely recognisable but the debates never seem to stray into exciting or unexpected territory. At times the naturalism, essential for the comedy to work is lost in stagy and heightened performances. The denouement when Martin emerges dripping from a pond with his laptop and the only hard copy of his play, hardly raised a snigger from an audience who began the show relishing every laugh.
Polly Sullivan’s set with an enormous cherry blossom at the centre is quite beautiful and if somewhat slight in scope, The Mentor is a charming eighty minute play, with sharply drawn characters and plenty of good lines.