Review: Velvet

4 star rating
An unsettling, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the darker choices facing a struggling young actor - makes salient points through a skilfully controlled and engaging performance.
Velvet at the Above The Stag Theatre

Photo credit Lidia Crisafulli



Closes here: Sunday 27 October 2019

Author:
Tom Ratcliffe

Director:
Andrew Twyman

Cast:

Tom Ratcliffe

Synopsis


Tom has always dreamt of being a successful actor, and now after years of disappointment he is finally presented with his golden opportunity … and an impossible decision to make.


Set against the backdrop of the 2017 #MeToo movement, Velvet explores the complex realities of harassment within the industry from a gay male perspective.


However, when most creatives are riding the wave of change, will Tom's opportunity slip through his fingers?


Background


WINNER - 'Outstanding Monologue' in Theatre Weekly Best of the Fest 2018


WINNER - Sean Meehan Identity in Theatre Award 2019


Winner of Theatre Weekly's 'Outstanding Monologue' in Edinburgh 2018's best of the fest.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 4 October 2019
Review star rating image

Tom Ratcliffe delivers an unsettling glimpse into the behind the scenes world of a young, gay actor struggling to get a toehold in the entertainment business in this self-penned, one-man show.


Though we only see Mr Ratcliffe during this piece, other characters emerge in voice over, so this is not quite the strict form of monologue that a single character show might suggest.


In fact the format proves a neatly creative way for the author to introduce other players into his world, adeptly providing essential interaction including some darker and more poignant moments.


But Mr Ratcliffe also supplies other characters direct from his own lips in several quick-fire exchanges, adding significantly to the play's vital interest and overlaying variety that monologues don't always effect.

Tom Ratcliffe in Velvet - photo by Lidia Crisafulli

Tom Ratcliffe in Velvet - photo by Lidia Crisafulli


The surprisingly generous acting area in the studio at this venue is almost too much for a one person show.


But the area is contracted somewhat with black and white floor tiles, that simultaneously convey the sense of a board game in which some of the 'rules' are unwritten and implied rather than spoken.


For this is a play that finds its origins in the #MeToo movement, and explores how harassment in the entertainment industry can force young actors to face impossible and unacceptable choices.


Productions that revolve around one or more of the participants in the theatre world can feel a touch incestuous, if that's the right term.


Shows with actors playing actors crop up at fairly regular intervals and not always to meaningful effect from the audience's perspective.


However, Velvet finds its credibility in the specific aim of delineating the complexities young actors must confront in trying to establish themselves in the highly competitive, harsh and largely unsympathetic entertainment world.


Focusing on one such actor, the play asks us to consider why harassment and exploitation should still appear to be engrained in this industry.


The production lands in London having already had a run in Edinburgh during 2018 and a UK tour earlier this year.


That means that Mr Ratcliffe and his director, Andrew Twyman, have had time to hone their production and it clearly shows in what is a strong, fluid and engagingly delivered performance.


Described as 'semi-autobiographical', Velvet exposes the seamier side of the acting business where courting casting directors, producers, agents and those with the power to make or break an acting career involves decoding what being "invited round for a drink" might actually mean.


To be explicit, it might entail providing sexual favours to secure a part.


Given these darker underlying themes and the mounting pressure Tom feels as opportunities fade and his impecunious position sends him fleeing back home to survive, I'd expected to see rather more in the way of rage here.


But I suspect both actor and director see the central character as victim in this context, and so his emotional journey is characterised not by anger, but through inevitable acquiescence and compliance.


That strategy actually proves well-judged and dramatically effective because, in spite of his endearing charm and youthful good-looks, we also find a vulnerable and exposed young person left to make impossible decisions on his own.


Unexpectedly, the closing moments find perversity surfacing, moulding inglorious and seemingly ruinous publicity into the success the actor so desperately seeks.


In one sense, that is an unsatisfactory outcome because one suspects the majority of young actors find few opportunities to realise their dreams and face continual struggle.


However, the essential point the play conveys is just how fickle and insidious the world it describes turns out to be.


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