I caught this on its final day, the matinee performance, having noted some decidedly mixed reviews.
Daniel Kehlmann’s play has been translated from the German by veteran writer and translator Christopher Hampton, and I found it a funny, biting satire on the profession of being a writer.
Moving into London via Bath, the play has failed to find a respectable audience, which is a shame as it is largely a series of accomplished two-hander scenes. F Murray Abraham is the star name, and for those of us who recall his Oscar winning turn in ‘Amadeus’ he is still a considerable draw as the abrasive, arrogant and charming Benjamin Rubin, who has only written one play of note, rarely produced and only read in schools, with a paranoia about TV radiation and an inflated perception of his own worth as a mentor.
He has been hired to mentor ‘the voice of his generation’ (so called by a bipolar critic who ended his life after filing his review), Martin Wegner, a puffed up joke of a man who has been practically bribed into the week by money, finding himself taken aback by Rubin’s only questions about his play being the font it was typed in and the occasional spelling mistake. He is played well by Daniel Weyman, who convinces as a writer out of his comfort zone.
Wegner has an art historian wife, Greta (played by Suzy Bloom in the performance I saw); she resents her husband living off her earnings and not contributing anything to the housework, and seems too easily swayed by Rubin once they have drunk a few cheap whiskies together (not the kind he constantly tells us is the best in Scotland). Do they, or don’t they? And if they do, isn’t the age gap just that bit too wide for decency?
The final cast member is a scene-stealer, Jonathan Cullen as Erwin Rudicek, a camp arts administrator who reveres his guests, but soon decides what he wants is to make a killing with his ‘mood compositions’ which he carries around in his phone gallery.
With an understated yet effective set, with falling blossoms and stone chairs shaped as hards, this play sets awards, frogs, a soggy manuscript, a red pencil, a bottle of whiskey, and a girl fan who falls for her hero while her marriage stutters to a stop, within a glitzy opening of Wegner accepted an award named after the now deceased Rubin, and a closing scene of Rubin himself channelling Wegner’s play ‘Without A Title’ in returning after falling off the perch to give us a last bit of wisdom about whisky.
I liked this play a lot. An enjoyable piece which, at eighty minutes, was probably slight and short enough.