4 July 2017
There has been a lot of buzz about Daniel Kehlmann's The Mentor after it premiered to strong reviews at the Ustinov Studio at Bath Theatre Royal. With a cast led by Oscar winner F Murray Abraham, it has transferred to London but, away from the intimacy of a regional studio theatre, it feels exposed in a West End theatre as little more than a pleasantly entertaining comedy.
F Murray Abraham is typically urbane and charming as respected playwright Benjamin Rubin who agrees to mentor promising young writer Martin Wegner at a country retreat. When Rubin bluntly assesses the younger man's latest play, tensions and insecurities come to the surface that shatter the rural idyll. There are plenty of funny moments that make The Mentor an amusing satire on the modern literary world, exploring the importance of talent and subjectivity in what is considered successful. There is a playfulness in the narrative form that provides a mild, well signalled twist that leaves us questioning what is true but otherwise it offers little to indicate why Kehlmann is considered such a notable writer in the German language.
Daniel Weyman strikes just the right note as the highly strung younger playwright, holding back from what could easily become hysteria. As his cool-headed wife, Naomi Frederick has a level of sang-froid that provides few clues to how they ended up together. Jonathan Cullen is delightful as the nervous, put-upon administrator Erwin Rudicek who runs the mentoring programme despite his own dreams of becoming an artist.
Solidly directed by Laurence Boswell, the production is well paced, with an effective set design by Polly Sullivan, enhanced by Colin Grenfell's atmospheric lighting. Christopher Hampton's translation has a lightness of touch that brings a leisurely flow of laughter, making this a pleasant if unexciting 80 minutes of well-made theatre.
Running to September 2, 2017