Vicky Featherstone’s first play as Artistic Director at the Royal Court theatre sees her tackle a story as epic as its title, Dennis Kelly’s The Ritual Slaughter Of Gorge Mastromas, a slick, stylish morality tale exploring the evils of capitalism.
This pithy summary does no justice to the compellingly detailed journey we witness Kelly’s protagonist take, however. From conception to old age, we hear how a little boy who, for all his impressive knowledge of “dinosaurs and machinery”, transforms from a somewhat average, ordinary child into a manipulative monster in a very expensive suit.
Satirising the conspiracy theories behind the world’s rich and power, from the New World Order to the Illuminati – Google either for at least a morning’s worth of distraction – plain, non-descript Gorge’s life is changed forever when he meets a sort of evil villain business woman with the power to stop time and see into the future, as long as it involves shares and bank balances, that is. Offered the choice between goodness and cowardice, Gorge takes the easy option, in turn inheriting these ‘super powers’ and swiftly transforming into a power-hungry, ruthless version of himself.
As Kelly’s novelistic play travels through the decades, Gorge feeding off the rewards of capitalism and becoming ever more monstrous with every taste, family members offer the seemingly soulless Gorge chances to choose goodness once more, all inevitably failing as they become collateral damage in his driven wake.
If you’re thinking it all sounds pretty dark, I’ve done Featherstone’s engrossing production justice. But the same wicked wit that Kelly brought to his multi award-winning adaptation of Matilda The Musical – admittedly very different, don’t expect to see any huge chocolate cakes or children singing on swings here – runs through Ritual Slaughter, ensuring you never lose focus in any of the lengthy scenes.
This tone is set from the very beginning, when the seven seated cast members talk us through Gorge’s first 20 or so years, a star brightly appearing on the simple night sky behind them as each person influential to his development is introduced. It’s a verbose speech, richly detailed and packed with hilariously observant interlinked memories, moving from the politics of the playground to hormonally potent grand teenage ideals.
The cast perform this challenging feat flawlessly, never missing a beat or poignant look. They continue to impress throughout the near three hour play, Pippa Haywood becoming a terrifyingly formidable boardroom shark, Kate O’Flynn a bolshie employee who falls victim to Gorge’s uncompromising desire and Tom Brooke as the man himself, scheming and manipulating with psychopathological ease, denying each betrayal with terrifyingly believable slack-jawed innocence.
Kelly’s ambitious play may not have been an easy option for Featherstone to have taken on as her debut at the helm of the venue, but her inventive, dynamic direction alongside Tom Stutt’s elegant, artful design ensure an enjoyably surreal evening.