Theatre

The Mentor at Ustinov Studio, Bath

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Posted on 14th April 2017

The Mentor

Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath

14 April, 2017

What a treat this is at the Ustinov to see F Murray Abraham (pictured) in the flesh and starring in The Mentor by Daniel Kehlmann, the second play in the studio's German season. 

You may not immediately recognise the name, but the Oscar-winning actor (for his performance as Salieri in the 1984 film Amadeus) has an impressive track record on stage, on the big screen (most recently Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grand Budapest Hotel), and on the small screen where he currently plays CIA black ops specialist Dar Adal in Homeland.

At the Ustinov he plays Benjamin Rubin, a cantankerous old writer basking in past glories although no longer making a living out of royalties. With two demanding ex-wives behind him, his interest lies in the arts fund fee he is to be paid for mentoring young playwright Martin Wegner  – 'the voice of his generation' – and especially in the younger man's attractive wife Gina.

What ensues is a supremely funny satire on art, fame, expectation and experience as the two men engage in an almighty clash of egos. 

F Murray Abraham gives a masterly performance as the old has-been twisting and conniving to maintain his standing, albeit faded, in the creative hierarchy. He may not have written another play to match the one that made him famous, but Rubin proves himself master of the dark art of dissembling.

He disdainfully lords it over the host, arts administrator Erwin (a funny Jonathan Cullen). He destroys the young playwright Wegner's confidence with savage pedantry, hilariously picking out typos in the text, asking what font is used for the manuscript, before dismissing the play as dreadful.

When Wegner (well played by Daniel Weyman), whose expectations are for praise, theatrically flounces off having thrown his work into the frog pond, the old rogue turns the charm on Gina (a calmly reasonable Naomi Frederick). They engage in a seductive interplay of words weaving together perceptions of time and reality.

The satire, the caustic one-liners, the dynamic between each of the four characters, make this play a delight. It's a clever dissection of artistic sensibilities, of ego, and the irony of art looking at art. Most of all it's funny, not least for Rubin's recurring whisky monologue, accompanied by a delicate shuddering of distaste when offered a best-selling but (in his opinion) lesser variety of Scotch.

The Mentor is the first of Daniel Kehlmann's plays ever to be performed outside Germany, this one translated by Christopher Hampton who also translated Florian Zeller's The Father for the Ustinov. 

Kehlmann is a literary superstar whose novel Measuring the World sold more than three million copies in Germany and even pushed Harry Potter author J K Rowling off the best-seller lists.

Once again the Ustinov's director Laurence Boswell, who also directs this production, has shown his ingenuity in finding top talent from around the world and bringing it to Bath.

The Mentor is showing at the Ustinov until Saturday 6 May. For tickets call the Theatre Royal Bath box office on 01225 448844 or go online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk/ustinov

Jackie Chappell

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