The Talented Mr Ripley
Wilton's Music Hall
Lethal lifestyle envy
This jet-black comedy has a downtrodden 1950s American, the titular anti-hero (played by Christopher Hughes), barely surviving his New York slummy lifestyle. Desperate for a second chance, he is offered a free trip to Italy to meet the wealthy, charming and spoiled Dickie Greenleaf (Christopher York).
Falling in love with both Greenleaf's wealthy existence and him as a person, Ripley decides to use his talents at impersonation and forging to stage Dickie's death to inherit everything. He suggests a boat trip with Dickie, who is getting bored of Ripley hanging around, but unsuspectingly agrees to it.
Most audience members will remember the 1999 filmic adaptation with Matt Damon as Ripley and Jude Law playing Dickie. However, this London adaptation of Patrica Highsmith’s novel has Hughes’ Ripley use a British accent when himself (despite being an American in Highsmith's 1955 original novel). This contrasts with Hughes’ New York drawl - plus some 1950s hornrimmed glasses - when impersonating his sharper, richer, more privileged alter ego Dickie Greenleaf, to neatly differentiate the two personas.
Hughes speaks directly to the audience about his plans to replace Dickie as the lifestyle envy turns lethal and he begins to resent the golden boy who doesn’t deserve his glamorous lifestyle. This is funny, unsettlingly entertaining and so engaging you half hope he gets away with it. Hughes has Ripley transform from dirtpoor loser to manipulative mastermind through sheer intelligence, always one step ahead of the police as the net tightens around him.
Director Mark Leipacher keeps the action fastpaced but could have streamlined it more; the last half of the play is slightly too frantic, with the authorities chasing after Ripley around most of Europe. Leipacher also uses a small sub platform in front of the stage, with a central hole the actors can disappear down from sight, as needed.
York's Greenleaf is as goodlooking and undeserving as Law was in the 90s and matched by Natasha Rickman as Dickie’s lover as an impressively bland Marge, the female version of her boyfriend, arrogantly expecting everyone she meets to like and admire her.
Costume designer Frances Norburn dresses Ripley in a shabby corduroy suit and greyish, crumpled office shirt to contrast strongly with Dickie's crisp white playboy-on-holiday outfit. Ripley then dons this white shirt as he "becomes" Dickie after the latter's death. When it becomes obvious that more impersonating skills are needed, things become little darker still.