first night

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Naoise Murphy sees Castle Theatre Company's production of this Dennis Kelly play.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is emphatically not a light evening’s entertainment. It’s long. It’s very long.

Dennis Kelly’s 2013 play follows Gorge (pronounced ‘George’) from childhood to old age, as he lies and cheats his way to wealth and power. Overall, CTC’s production felt slow and under-rehearsed, though there were moments of brilliance. The dark humour that dominated the first act, particularly the chorus scenes, was hugely enjoyable. Every actor gave a commendable performance, and director Owen Sparkes has done a great job on the slick, tightly choreographed and pleasingly ominous chorus work.

Theodore Holt-Bailey was assured and convincing as the title character. The nature of the play meant that his characterisation changed dramatically from scene to scene, but his charisma and undeniable stage presence ensured continuity. Sarah Cameron gave a fantastic performance as Louisa, the abused survivor who becomes the subject of Gorge’s most sickening manipulations. Her wry humour and confident delivery shone in the opening scene, and later her portrayal of this complicated character was nuanced and engaging. Ella Blaxill achieved a wonderfully menacing tone in her portrayal of the ruthless, predatory businesswoman. However, there was definitely more room for variation in her characterisation, and in the direction of a particularly pivotal scene—the beginning of Gorge’s descent (it did begin to drag).

There was surely more humour to be found throughout the play. The script was fantastically witty in places; I would have loved to see this drawn out even more. Harry Scholes and Joe Stanton both provided excellent moments of comedy that served to lighten the mood. Tevinius Muendiño also provided solid support in the chorus scenes, but seemed to lack conviction in his portrayal of Gel, resulting in a tendency to gesticulate distractingly. I enjoyed Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker’s sardonic delivery in the narration, and his contrasting performance as Pete. However, this final scene, like several others in the play, verged on the repetitive, and could therefore have benefitted from some more creative directorial decisions.

Stumbling over lines was unfortunately a consistent feature of the evening, with actors cutting one another off with regrettable regularity. The entire play would benefit from tightening up and picking up the pace considerably. The odd pregnant pause is effective, but leaving too many just dilutes their significance. Scene changes were decidedly awkward, and the projector placed in the centre of the stage felt distracting and unprofessional. The use of projections was effective in setting the tone of the play and suggesting some important themes, but was not exploited to its full potential, and suffered some technical hitches. Lighting was simple and unobtrusive, and the eerie background music playing over the chorus’s narration was perfectly judged and contributed much to the general sense of threat.

Kelly’s play deals with heavy themes: greed, corruption, sexual abuse, the ability of the powerful to dictate the ‘truth’. His vision of the world is bleak and uncompromising, and unfortunately, feels more relevant than ever in the current global political climate. Hopefully some of the first night issues will be ironed out of this uneven performance, allowing the cast to really embrace the dark brilliance of the play.

3 March 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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