If you find yourself seeking a crackling comedy bristling with warmth, wit and food for thought this month – in particular, a show starring an Academy Award-winner… say, perhaps, one F. Murray Abraham – then look no further: Daniel Kehlmann’s stimulating show The Mentor opened last night at the Vaudeville Theatre to a suitably sizzling reception and hearty laughs aplenty.
But although the eponymous mentorship doesn’t ultimately prove quite as fruitful as you might expect, we certainly learnt plenty from the evening, incluiding…
Money is the root of all drama
Naomi Frederick and F. Murray Abraham in The Mentor (Photo: Simon Annand)
Transporting audiences to an art nouveau villa in the sunny German countryside, The Mentor is a bubbling comedy of platitudes, sharp perceptions and sardonic put-downs. Crotchety and cantankerous writer Benjamen Rubin (Abraham), a one-hit-wonder whose fame is still defined by a piece he penned at 24, is employed by a charity scheme to help develop the work of rising literary star Martin Wegner (a hilariously oblivious Daniel Weyman).
But much to Rubin’s chagrin, Wegner isn’t quite as interested in critiques as he is the cash benefit of the programme; thus commences a battle of the minds, mentalities and egos.
Ego is a prickly thing
F. Murray Abraham in The Mentor (Photo: Simon Annand)
Murray Abraham produces a brilliantly calculated performance as fading writer Rubin. With an initially cordial manner and a salient air of arrogance – he’s in the “I just made a joke, and will check everybody’s laughing” bracket – Rubin’s incredulity soon becomes apparent when his voice is challenged by that of the idealistic Wegner.
With facial expressions as withering as the remarks which accompany them (“This script doesn’t mean you’re not talented… but how can you tell?!”), his gradually ticking time bomb of an ego proves the perfect foil to that of his more emotionally charged counterpart, providing many a chuckle as the two butt heads and smash together ideals of their generations – intellectually, of course.
Laptops are surprisingly buoyant
Naomi Frederick and Daniel Weyman in The Mentor (Photo: Simon Annand)
At some point in our lives, we’ve all had that overwhelming urge to lob the nearest electronic equipment away as vigorously as we can.
It’s not always an ideal solution, however, when you’re on an estate with a frog-infested lake. Fishing nets at the ready!
Criticism isn’t for everyone
Daniel Weyman, Jonathan Cullen, Naomi Frederick and F. Murray Abraham in The Mentor (Photo: Simon Annand)
At the core of the show sit musings on the value of criticism of art and the subjectivity – or otherwise – that lies behind it. And when you throw together a waning writer with one just publicly proclaimed as “the voice of his generation”, there’s certainly scope for both bitter and honest critiques on both sides.
And it’s not just Rubin and Wegner who get caught up in throwing one another shade; Wegner’s long-suffering wife Gina (an astute Naomi Frederick), and hapless arts administrator Jonathan Cullen (the excellent Erwin Rudicek), become embroiled in the clash, and it soon becomes clear how ludicrously we sometimes go out of our way to hide our true feelings.
But if there’s one heart-warming – and frequently hilarious – lesson that the events of The Mentor demonstrate, it’s that, above everything else, all the characters need do is be honest to themselves, in whatever form they choose.
The Mentor plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 2 September. You can book your tickets through us here.