The Mentor – Review

What could be worse than being holed up for five days with two towering egos, one belonging to a pretentious and conceited, nouveau playwright, and the other, a washed-up writer, living vicariously on his one big hit?

F Murray Abraham makes a welcome return to the West End in The Mentor, a slight comedy that is over almost before it has begun.

The 80-minute production (which somehow shaved another five minutes off when I saw it) has moved into the Vaudeville Theatre for the summer after wowing audiences at Theatre Royal Bath.

And a lot of its success is down to its star whose charisma and wit could charm the birds from the trees.

Indeed, as jaded Benjamin Rubin, he may no longer be à la mode in modern literature but he could win a Pulitzer for his seduction technique.

The devilment in his eyes and a wolfish smile are a killer combination. It’s no wonder he has two ex-wives.

The Mentor comes from German playwright Daniel Kehlmann, himself a rising star in drama, and translated, with his usual style and confidence, by Christopher Hampton.

It’s fun, and has some interesting things to say about art, literature and the insincerity of both industries, but there’s so little meat.

You come out thinking that what you saw was perfectly fine but couldn’t we have another scene or two? Perhaps develop its themes some more?

The play is set in a rural arts centre where American Rubin has been paid to fly over and mentor a rising young playwright, Martin Wegner.

The modernist and self-absorbed Wegner (Daniel Weyman on top form) called his first play Night, Fog and it only played a handful of times.

The second, which he is here to discuss with Reubin, is so chichi that it doesn’t need, or have, a title.

Wegner is initially starstruck to meet Rubin while his more grounded wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick) is more pragmatic.

Reubin arrives first and picks fault with everything. His despairing host, failed painter now administrator, Erwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen) sighs, smiles, and does his best to accommodate his diva-like and boorish VIP guest.

The writer smiles lasciviously on hearing that Gina is an art historian. “In my day that mean’t something,” he smirks.

And, indeed, when the young couple arrive, Reubin goes into action. Given Wegner’s latest work to read he whips out his red pen and annihilates it out of spite and/or jealousy.

You wonder, at the inquest into the piece the next morning, how this trio, with poor, frustrated Erwin caught in the crossfire, will survive another night, much less five days.

Abraham’s dialogue is razor sharp, pricking Wegner’s oversized ego and sense of self-importance.

This play within a play exposes some truisms in the industry. Everybody loves your work – to your face – but it’s all a charade, acted out to keep everyone happy. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

The Mentor is interesting if only for F Murray Abraham’s engaging and caustic performance but the play, as a satire, lacks any real punch.

Playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until September 2.

Review Rating
  • The Mentor
3

Summary

F Murray Abraham makes a welcome return to the London stage, bringing charisma and wit to his titular role in The Mentor at London’s Vaudeville Theatre.

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