Much to his parents dismay American-born Dickie Greenleaf, who was supposed to only be in Italy for a few months, keeps extending his stay. Desperate to be reunited with their son, the Greenleafs enlist the help of Dickie’s friend: accountant Thomas Ripley. Despite only having made the briefest of acquaintances with Dickie (at a mutual friend’s cocktail party), an ever-impulsive Ripley decides to accept Mr Greenleaf’s offer to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy to track Dickie down and persuade him to return to the States. For Ripley, his jaunt to Italy proves to be the first step on a catastrophically slippery slope. The Faction Theatre’s staging of The Talented Mr Ripley is an ambitious project that the team pull off tremendously. This is largely thanks to Christopher Hughes’s phenomenal performance as the social chameleon Thomas Ripley: his portrayal was some of the finest acting I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
From Ripley’s iconic opening line: “Do you ever feel like you’re being watched?”, which is uttered at breakneck speed, we then tumble into the dark world of Ripley’s stream of consciousness. In many ways, Ripley is like an emotional blotting paper who absorbs and mimics the quirks and character traits of those who cross his path. It is testament to Christopher Hughes’s acting aplomb that he is able to flit between such polarised characters with such ease.
The space is dominated by a large white frame with a smaller cut-out square in the centre, which the ensemble lie beneath, emerge from and cavort around. The production is rife with visual metaphors: for instance, when Ripley is attempting to juggle his own bumbling identity while also embodying the cocksure Dickie, he carries both his own suitcase and the case that formerly belonged to Dickie – as if to say that regardless of the persona he is inhabiting at the time, he is always literally carrying his other self as baggage.
The Talented Mr Ripley forms part of The Faction’s repertory season and the ensemble are also performing Romeo and Juliet and Joan of Arc in rotation, in programming that is linked by the overarching theme of identity. At three hours and ten minutes the work does feel long and could certainly benefit from an outside eye to tighten it in parts. That said, this Mr Ripley is more than just talented – he’s faultlessly brilliant.
The Talented Mr Ripley is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 28 February. For tickets and more information see the New Diorama Theatre website.