VELVET @ Pleasance Courtyard
An actor struggles to succeed in a rotten, exploitative, abusive system that has learned no lessons from #MeToo
Written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe, VELVET is a story of a young actor desperate for stardom, obsessed with his career, jealous of his peers and willing to do anything at all for success. A familiar setup perhaps, but the post-#MeToo landscape is being remoulded fast, and this play has some interesting territory to explore in terms of how things have changed, and how they haven’t.
The actor, also called Tom, is fresh out of drama school, and the shine is starting to come off the dream a little. He’s no angel – he’s unable to admit to himself why he’s really still with his well-moneyed boyfriend – but it’s impossible not to feel for him as a system whose power structures are very much still in place draws him in and chews him up.
Director Andrew Twyman and designer Luke W. Robson make some smart choices, staging the script’s many text conversations on a screen at the rear and adding a disembodied, almost machine-like voiceover to represent Tom’s anonymous texting partner. Most of us have felt the helpless, impotent frustration of waiting for a grey WhatsApp tick to turn blue, and having it play out right there in front of you is enough to make you squirm in your seat. Surprisingly enough, these text exchanges are actually more engaging than the in-person conversations between characters, which fall into the common one-person-show trap of becoming overlong rapid-fire exchanges between the actor’s normal voice and a slightly deeper version of their voice.
The ending feels a little rushed. After things come to a head, and something unexpectedly awful happens to Tom, the aftermath of that event is sped through somewhat. The previous hour of well-paced, well-executed buildup feels slightly shortchanged, which is a shame when such smart, effective drama preceded it.
VELVET, Pleasance Courtyard (That), 1-27 Aug (not 14), £9-£12.50
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