Sunday, 9 July 2017

Review: The Mentor – Vaudeville Theatre

Written by renowned German novelist Daniel Kehlmann and translated into English by Christopher Hampton, The Mentor pens the interaction between two playwrights, one considered a literary legend and the other just beginning his career.

Benjamin Rubin (F Murray Abraham) is a has-been, the writer of a hugely successful play from many years before that has been heralded a modern classic, performed once but studied on every school syllabus since. Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman) is a young writer, identified as 'the voice of his generation' by one critic following a small performance of his first play. The two are placed together on a country estate for a week-long writing programme, during which Rubin is to mentor Wegner on his next project. 

What follows is a series of conversations between the pair of writers, interspersed with interactions from the programme’s administrator, Erwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen), and Wegner’s wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick). As Rubin deems the young writer’s play worthless, these conversations become a rather tedious battle of the egos, idly propelling a rather questionable turn of events.

It is F Murray Abraham’s portrayal of the conceited Benjamin Rubin that is the play’s saving grace, with his enthralling presence and witty charm making it difficult to dislike the ego beneath the grandeur. Jonathan Cullen’s timely-delivered sarcastic remarks as the pragmatic administrator provide the best of the comic moments, whilst Weyman and Frederick as the married couple seem to belong to a different genre of comedy, with their mannerisms, as well as the plot, becoming more and more farcical by the scene.

As the mind inevitably wanders from the rather convoluted dialogue, Polly Sullivan’s attractive set design at least offers some creativity to admire, with two large stone hands seating the writers, as if hand-delivered from God himself. A simple but elegant scattering of blossom effectively separates one scene from the next.

Although The Mentor is a pleasant enough watch, its lack of clear direction, purpose and meaning limit its successes from the outset. Whether its significance and metaphor are lost in translation, the play offers nothing of real value to its audience beyond an hour and a half’s light entertainment. Even the moments in which the play appears to be mocking itself, or the very existence of the playwright, do so with little conviction.

Huge thanks to Stagedoor for making this review possible!

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review but all words and opinions are my own.

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