The Mentor - Bath Theatre Review
Posted on: 2017-04-18
A slick and witty comedy that leaves you wondering where the boundaries between truth and mere wish lie
This is another first for the Ustinov’s artistic director Laurence Boswell, a full production of the German playwright Daniel Kehlmann play, in English. And, I’m sure it will go on to the West End as other productions of this level of wit and strong performances, from all the cast, have done.
Set in the grounds of a rural villa, an anonymous art foundation has paid handsome sums to up its status by bringing the great and the good together, in a mentoring project. Not an unusual premise (even in these art funding, cash strapped, times). But what is a great writer and what even is a promising writer? What does it take personally and intellectually to make art at a level that satisfies the artist’s own internal standards? And who is the best judge of achievement? Prosperity (the award ceremonies), the reviewers? All fallible constructs according to Kehlmann.
Clearly the established ‘great writer’ is not to be relied on to be great or good in other ways, as the character of the mentor, Benjamin Ruben, shows us. Murray Abraham offers a beautiful performance as a cantankerous, older generation writer who immediately displays both a predominant interest in his fee and a hierarchical attitude to others, more befitting a Hollywood star then potential mentor. The beauty is in the portrayal of the detail – Ruben’s faddiness. Abraham melds together a miss match of traits – insecurity, repetitious behaviors, status anxiety and a dogged, philosophical demand for honesty. Played against the foundation’s earnest lackey – Rudicek – in the first instance, as an audience, we are tempted to dismiss Ruben as a crude, game player. But things are ratcheted up when we meet the mentee – Martin Wegner, played by Daniel Weyman - heralded as ‘the new voice in playwriting’ we see their attitudes match. Neither thinks the other has anything to offer; the whole premise of their meeting is false. But who will knock who off their pedestal first?
The support for the carry on that ensues comes firstly from Jonathan Cullen, as Rudieck, professional but with artistic ambitions of his own. And then, from Gina, played by Naomi Frederick, attempting to be the ‘good wife’. The journey each character makes from comfortable to real is plausible and horribly recognisable. I thought this play showed brilliance. But then, as a mere reviewer, who am I?!
The Mentor is running until 6th of May at Ustinov Studio. Get your tickets here.
Born in Bath, Safia has lived on the outskirts of the city her whole life. After studying journalism in Bristol she now spends a lot of her time searching for new things to see in Bath and soaking up the beautiful culture. You're most likely to find her sipping a soya latte in a lovely little independent cafe! Call Safia on 07468 516375 or email editor@365Bath.com.