Dennis Kelly’s cautionary morality fable of corporate greed, corruption and an insatiable hunger for power at any cost, The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, is superbly executed in the first offering of Red Stitch Actors Theatre’s 2015 season.
From the moment we are ushered into the space – a perfect cube of clinical whitewashed sterility, with an unavoidably ominous black chasm lurking in the far wall – we are cursed with an inescapable sense of quiet unease and impending disaster.
With this, the ensemble appears and, with an almost unsettling degree of Play School-style sing-song delightfulness, present us with the tale of young Gorge Mastromas, a mild-mannered and ultimately unremarkable boy who generally lacks any of the initiative or opportunism necessary to seize any of the myriad opportunities presented to him and thrive as an individual.
Gorge is plagued by this hubris of unmitigated “goodness or cowardice” well into his adult life, until he is suddenly presented with a most unusual choice that, in turn, completely redefines his perception of the world and his place within it, and sees him abandon his hitherto steadfast moral code in favour of a rapid journey up the proverbial food chain, via a number of increasingly disturbing acts.
Although the notion of such a sudden, dramatic and counterintuitive shift in one man’s personality is perhaps a bit of a stretch, for the most part the writing is exceptionally slick, delicately balancing the darkness of its subject matter with enough levity and humour to make your stomach turn in just the right way.
The cast carry the text with great finesse, under the direction of Mark Wilson. It is wonderful to see such a strong ensemble arrangement, in which each member is able to retain such a strong sense of individual characterisation within the group dynamic, making the collective cohesion simultaneously fantastically nuanced, and lending a deep richness of texture to the interplay of five voices.
The design is tight and Mattea Davies’s set is the perfect visual allegory for the impending darkness that lurks just beyond the precipice of this clean and comfortable world, waiting with the potential to corrupt and consume even the meekest and most unassuming of individuals.
Robert D Jordan’s cleverly overlayed projections lend a somewhat expressionist grotesquery to proceedings as we are flashed fractured visions of portions of Gorge’s life, as well as additional narration from looming and distorted faces that challenge us with jeers of “Are you disgusted yet?” as Gorge’s actions become more and more ethically corrupt.
Clare Springett’s lighting design seems a little patchy, occasionally losing performers in unusual swathes of darkness during quite pivotal scenes, but overall, the design for this show is incredibly tight.
Despite being a relatively late addition to Red Stitch’s 2015 season, this is one hell of an opener.