The Royal & Derngate Northampton’s latest production is a Phyllis Nagy reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s dark 50s novel The Talented Mr Ripley, famously turned into a film by the late Anthony Minghella.
The film served her book well, but watching this intelligent and powerful adaptation makes you realise how much more dark angst and psychological twisting and turning lies in this strange story. The key to Raz Shaw’s revival is a very talented cast; Matt Damon, who played the title role of Tom Ripley in the movie, was essentially miscast compared to Kyle Soller in the play. Soller gives nothing short of a powerhouse performance as eerie, dark and hugely magnetic Tom.
And it’s this magnetism that holds this period story together. A story about a troubled young social parasite, Tom Ripley, who is commissioned by a rich New York couple to journey to Italy to persuade their son, Richard Greenleaf, to return, but who turns to murder to fuel his ambition and deception.
You could argue it’s a pretty homophobic little tale: the gay man as twisted, deceiving, clever, talented, vain and arrogant serial killer. Ripley is talented in all the wrong ways, using a gay person’s creativity and charm as a mask for evil and wrongdoing. But in Nagy’s play it is hard to hate Tom Ripley, as we revel in his ability to outwit and beguile, despite his deadly deeds.
A strong supporting cast is led by the gorgeous pairing of Sam Heughan as Richard Greenleaf and Michelle Ryan as Marge Sherwood, with Miranda Foster in the dual roles of Emily Greenleaf and Tom’s aunt Dottie standing out for her beautiful comic timing.
For all the play’s casting success, the production felt a little inconsistent in places, particularly through direction and design. Elements of modern dance, back projection, overlapping scenes, freeze frame, slow motion, realism and expressionism are all shoved in there, together with a set that looks less 1950s Italy than 1970s Blackpool.
But it’s worth the ticket for Kyle Soller alone.