After what must be the longest prologue since Chaucer, the action of Dennis Kelly’s new play about the shortcomings of success finally gets going. Not that what comes next is all that action-packed or very relevant to the prologue. A bland boardroom slides to the front of the stage to present the hostile takeover of a business that no-one bothers to explain, involving a trio of grizzled yuppie types cut from very generic cloth. It’s hard to know who to watch and it only becomes clear late on that this is some kind of induction into cynicism for the young and upwardly mobile Gorge Mastromas.
The colourless corporate Punch and Judy show is the first – and best – of four long, wordy scenes that represent the turning points in the life of the eponymous anti-hero, played with gathering intensity by Tom Brooke. Focussing on these four spots of time is a conceit that only half works with the drama lurching from bitter epiphany to crisis without enough connective tissue to ensure that the audience feels it knows Mastromas. Despite the compelling performances, it’s hard not to zone out and focus less on the story and characters, more on the skill of the actors in memorising so much (largely) unremarkable dialogue.
Perhaps this is deliberate – there are a plethora of Brechtian distancing devices thrown into the mix (maybe Kelly is trying to shake off the wholesome image he got after writing the book for the hit musical Matilda) – but that coldness also means emotional heft is sacrificed. Early on, the chorus asks the audience: “Are you disgusted yet?”. The answer is no and remains no even as Mastromas’s crimes start to pile up. And when events start to close in around him as they inevitably do in these morality tales, it’s hard to muster much empathy.
The Ritual Slaughter Of Gorge Mastromas is on at The Royal Court until 19 October 2013. Tickets £10-£32. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.