The Mentor. 3***, London, To 02 September

by Daniel Kehlman.
Translated by Christopher Hampson.


The Vaudeville Theatre 404, the Strand, London WC2 0NY to 2 September 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm/
Runs 90 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 033 0333 4814.
Review: William Russell 4 July.

A civilised but slight affair
The chance to see F Murray Abraham in a play is not one to be missed although the German writer Daniel Kehlman’s play translated by Christopher Hampson play is the slightest of trifles, an intermittently funny and undeniably a civilised affair which tells audiences something about the struggles playwrights face. But in spite of a deliciously ambivalent performance from F Murray Abraham as Benjamin Rubin, an ageing playwright who has one great play to his credit followed by lots of screenplays and wives now earning a crust by acting as mentor to an allegedly up and coming young writer, it is gossamer thin. Ruben, who is arrogant, pompous, and repeats the same joke routines to each new person he meets, dismisses the younger man’s work as rubbish, appears to seduce his wife, a museum administrator who keeps her husband afloat and is along for the ride, and bullies the wimpish administrator of the centre running the mentor scheme.

Mr Abraham could do what he does in his sleep but does it very well and manages to arouse sympathy for a writer with one great play in his past whose arrogance is founded on the knowledge that what came after was just hack work to earn a living and to make us understand his jealousy of the younger man Martin Wegner, who has it all before him and might just write more than one great play. He conveys in a nicely languid way that as well as being rather poisonous and jealous Ruben is also well aware of his failings, that he is a loser who will never write anything like that first play again.

Good though he is as Wegner Daniel Weyman is not really up to the battle with Abraham – the play demands conflicting star casting – and the character is horribly unsympathetic. Naomi Frederick as his wife, an underwritten role, manages to convey disillusionment with this useless, self centred man she has been effectively keeping, and to suggest she might just have taken revenge by sleeping with Abraham when Wegner decamps in a huff. As the administrator, forever delivering the wrong whisky – Rubin has a routine about the right malt which he insists on delivering time and again when offered an unacceptable blend – Jonathan Cullen bumbles nicely, overwhelmed by the presence of greatness, even if passé greatness. The jokes are good, it is nice to see a play in a West End theatre as opposed to yet another musical, but it is woefully short, a canapé of a play rather than a feast and the ingredients are familiar – think Art.

Benjamin Rubin: F Murray Abraham.
Martin Wegner: Daniel Weyman.
Gina Wegner: Naomi Frederick.
Edwin Rudicek: Jonathan Cullen.

Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell.
Composer & sound Designer: Dave Price.
Assistant Director: Rosa Crompton.

2017-07-06 10:00:07

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