The best plays get you thinking. Slipping into your brain unnoticed they liberate those cogs and get them turning.
Dennis Kelly is no stranger to making you think. His works are littered with darkness: children covering up murder, or dark agencies unleashing biological weapons. In The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas he takes an electrifying look at how far one person will go to get the things they want.
Gorge, a megalomaniac cum super-villain, has the reality of the universe revealed to him and is granted the power to achieve any goal, or obtain anything or anyone, by lying without the burden of guilt. Shaping the world to his own will he strides down some sinister paths to capture the heart of the woman he loves.
Gorge is a product of his choices however; a man marked by missed opportunity, and Kelly takes pains to ensure we realise his everyman beginnings with the explicit details of his humble birth. It’s a protracted and un-theatrically staged prologue during which the audience became restless.
At every stage after this the writing is impeccable and the staging fantastic. Kelly is an expert at keeping you guessing what is real and what isn’t. Tricks and twists in every scene are clarified by his narrators who add a sense of comfort to a very murky tale, but then skew things with a meaty revelation.
Tom Scutt’s set design is slick and stylish. Entirely figurative the whole piece seems staged inside a large wooden crate. In the first act hotel and meeting rooms are wheeled out, then in the second the stage is stripped bare, the back wall of the Jerwood Theatre exposed. It’s a beautiful and transformative effect.
Whilst uniformly excellent performances are on display throughout, the icing on the cake is Tom Brooke’s performance as the titular Gorge. He displays excellent versatility in playing such a devious and changeable character. All of his quirkiness is on display and he’s perfect casting for Gorge. Brooke has an awkwardness about him, but he’s so comfortable in it that he’s simply great to watch. The lilt of his voice when he caresses or stabs with each word makes for a thrilling transformation, as Gorge goes from young naive to desperate megalomaniac.
It’s only the very ending where the play falls flat. It’s far too hopeful and just; uncharacteristic for Kelly and for the times we live in. Despite this unsatisfactory note it’s an excellent feeling to be taken in hand by a master storyteller, and even better to be gifted with a wonderful performance. The very best pieces of theatre get you thinking, and The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas will be one that you mull over for days if not weeks or longer.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 19th October 2013