Castle Theatre Company’s (CTC) The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas was set to be a modern morality play. Documenting the degradation of Gorge’s everyman character to that of a power-hungry tyrant, there is much to commend in this production. However, its lack of clear directorial vision ultimately prevented its potential being fully realised.
What was a real shame upon entering the Assembly Rooms Theatre was seeing that CTC’s modest advertisement had failed to attract a real audience; with perhaps a mere twenty filling the vast theatre. Of course, this is not usually worthy of note in a review. However, unfortunately, the cast truly would have benefitted from more interaction with a fuller audience to bounce off; particularly in those moments of dark humour or ensemble narration, which are vital to ensuring the vibrancy of Denis Kelly’s unique script.
Director Owen Sparkes was clearly ambitious in his attempts to bring the political aspects of this play to life, with his choice to use a projector showcasing ‘70s, ‘80s and modern newsreels. Sadly, this decision may not have paid off; their presence seemed somewhat out of place and there were consistently distracting technical faults with projector and screen throughout.
The main weakness of this play was its sheer length; CTC’s production lasted almost three hours. Certain scenes demanded axing in order to magnify the powerful moments more effectively. The office scene, in particular, was frustratingly long for the audience. Ella Blaxill, who played ‘A,’ did a fabulous job in embodying the cruel figure of business in this moment but was obviously let down by a lack of directorial conviction, as she ambled back and forth on stage in an attempt to flesh out her long and repetitive speeches. However, Sparks and Assistant Director Hetty Hodgson must be commended for the representative use of the static set, with two opposing doors on either side of the stage, which so easily could be symbolic for the two choices between ‘goodness or cowardice’ as were so often put to the audience.
Yet despite these criticisms, both directors did a wonderful job in nurturing the various characterisations and should be applauded for some lovely casting decisions. Admittedly, I was not a major fan of the group narrative moments, and it is fair to say that each member of the ensemble shone far more in their named roles. Though of course there were first night slip-ups (such as lack of synchronisation of movements), to sustain dynamism in such fast-paced ensemble exchanges as a collective deserves real praise. The danger of child-like delivery was thankfully avoided with such a skilled team. However, prop and set changes enacted by the cast were consistently poor and lacked real polish. Were set changes meant to happen around the onstage actors or in between scenes? At any rate, the repetition of late, loud or aggressive set changes occurred so frequently as to be somewhat laughable; I sincerely hope these slicken up in the remaining nights.
Yet, the acting certainly made up for this and was the clear strength of the play. Joe Stanton in particular shone as the Hotel Porter, providing the delightful comic interlude that was needed. Harry Scholes as ‘M’ played the failing businessman with full vigour, evoking sympathy from his audience at every turn. Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker embodied the characterisation of youthful Pete to wonderful effect. Although Tevinius Muendiño, who played Gel, had a few issues with projection and diction, he clearly understood his character of the grudging brother well and successfully executed his dialogue in his lengthy scene.
Yet personally, the real stars of the show were Gorge, played by Theodore Holt-Bailey and Louisa, played by Sarah Cameron. In their scenes together the play became entirely watchable, as the strength of their seasoned acting really shone through. I cannot praise Holt-Bailey enough for his ability to switch from narrator, to nervous personal assistant, to power-obsessed villain in a characterisation flip almost akin to multi-rolling. Although he should be careful to vary his tone in certain longer scenes, he ultimately kept the pace of the play up and reminded us of the true evils of greed and deception. Cameron complimented him superbly, really hitting the nail on the head in providing those pockets of welcomed comic relief. Their last scene together was particularly well-executed, with Cameron refraining from even a word of dialogue, yet both actors equally commanding the space; a testament to the talent of both individuals.
Overall, CTC’s production was interestingly conceptualised. Yet sometimes a vague lack of direction limited the cast from maximising their performances. However, the acting is the major draw of this play. Despite criticisms, I am confident that the production will pick up as the following nights ensue and the show will undoubtedly tighten up. Do not let me dissuade you from buying a ticket to what is, in essence, a novel and niche production. As Sparkes aptly states in his director’s note ‘at a time when populism is on the rise and the shape of the world seems to be changing, this play means a lot.’
‘The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas’ will be performed at the Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 2nd March to Saturday 4th March at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: James Yallop