Consumerism and comedy: caustic satire at the Royal Court

Art & Lit Stage

Dennis Kelly’s latest offering, The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, is a modern morality tale. This is made apparent in the first ‘real’ scene (which follows an extensive choral introduction), where the protagonist Gorge (Tom Brooke) makes the decision which is beamed in neon from the very heart of the stage: Goodness or Cowardice?

There is something reassuring about watching a reinvention of Faustus, and the actors themselves have such an impressive collection of previous experiences that their faces are familiar. Retelling a classic story with such a stellar cast should create space for innovative discussion, but despite this solid base the story itself seems to have lost its way from the off. While aware as an audience we are being preached at, the conclusion we are meant to come to, even the questions we are meant to be asking, are never quite made tangible.

The eponymous anti-hero is given his own “magic” by being inducted into “a secret society”; Pippa Haywood’s savage ‘A’ delivers an impressive monologue baptising Gorge into a world of taking whatever he wants. As Mephistopheles, she delivers Gorge’s damnation with a catlike smile.

Pippa Haywood (A) and Tom Brooke (Gorge Mastromas)
Pippa Haywood (A) and Tom Brooke (Gorge Mastromas)

The main problem with the play is the same problem with almost all moralising; everything just goes on a bit too long. Some serious cutting could, and should, have been done in order for this play to avoid boring its audience. The choral narrative that introduces the story takes up a quarter of the play. That’s half an hour. Of the cast sat down in a line facing the audience. While so much of the script in this part is impressive comedy, it moves beyond the point of its own justification as an interesting theatrical device.

At its peak, through the sickening revelations of the extent to which Gorge will stoop to get what he wants from society, Kelly’s play is powerful and genuinely horrifying. When he reinvents the Cain and Abel narrative it is incredibly harrowing; as Gorge and his brother, Gel (Jonathan McGuiness) reach a conflict point, the play out of fraternal betrayal is bewitching to behold.

On the other hand, there is something that feels distinctly shoehorned about the theatricality of this piece. There’s an imposition of ‘subtle’ features which feel garish; Gorge (pronounced George) has been given an obviously consumerist naming, and the date of the final scene is given as the day of the performance – but it takes more than an awareness of the calendar to make a show current.

Kate O'Flynn (Louisa)
Kate O’Flynn (Louisa)

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas sermonises without casting distinctive judgment and for this originality it should be commended. A little more guidance might, however, persuade an audience that the creative team knew at least what they themselves think, and it is disappointing that one leaves the auditorium feeling quite so lectured.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is showing at The Royal Court Theatre until 19th October. More details and ticket bookings (prices vary, £10 on Mondays) are available here: www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/the-ritual-slaughter-of-gorge-mastromas

3 STARS

PHOTOS/ Manuel Harlan