Previewed 24 June 2017, Opened 4 July 2017, Closed 2 September 2017 at the Vaudeville Theatre
A major production of Daniel Kehlmann's comedy The Mentor in London translated by Christopher Hampton and starring F Murray Abraham - transfers to London following a run at the Theatre Royal Bath
Two egotistical writers who are forced together in a villa in the German countryside. Benjamin Rubin, a cantankerous old writer and whiskey aficionado who is still basking in the reflected glory of a long-ago success, is forced to mentor Martin Wegner, a rising literary star who is hailed as the ‘voice of his generation’. A comedy about art and artists and the legacy of fame.
The cast features F Murray Abraham as 'Benjamin Rubin' and Daniel Weyman as 'Martin Wegner' with Naomi Frederick as his wife 'Gina' and Jonathan Cullen as the literary agent 'Erwin' - who are all reprising their roles from the Theatre Royal Bath season. Play by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Laurence Boswell with designs by Polly Sullivan, lighting by Colin Grenfell and music by Dave Price. PLEASE NOTE: The age recommendation for this production is 12 and above.
When this production opened here in London's Vaudeville Theatre in July 2017, Ann Treneman in the Times described how "Laurence Boswell directs here with a sure touch and the set, by Polly Sullivan, is quirky and fun. The play is only 80 minutes long and could do with a few more layers... Yet F Murray Abraham lifts the evening, his portrayal full of innuendo and chutzpah, until, really, you just have to sit back and enjoy watching him twirl everyone, including the audience, round his little finger." Neil Norman in the Daily Express thought that "the slightly self-congratulatory tone is profoundly irritating and Daniel Kehlmann has neither the intellectual heft of Tom Stoppard nor the dramatic sleight-of-hand of Florian Zeller’s revelatory work to which it aspires. Director Laurence Boswell delivers a polished production of a flimsy, whimsical play that is all shine, no substance. At least it’s short." Paul Taylor in the i Newspaper explained that "the American actor F Murray Abraham has been lured back to the British stage for the first time in a decade, but sadly the play - an amusing but rather slight comedy about the fragility of the writerly ego and the subjective nature of artistic judgement - does not really rise to the occasion... Laurence Boswell's production is well paced and sparkily performed but it can't disguise the fact that everything in the piece is signalled too broadly." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard highlighted that "Laurence Boswell's neat production has fun with the farcical elements of Daniel Kehlmann's 80-minute piece (fluidly translated by Christopher Hampton). Its more philosophical interests are handled with wit yet feel insubstantial, and apart from Rubin the characters are flimsy... and we're left to wonder whether he's darkly intellectual or in fact desperately shallow." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail said that "although translated fluently by Christopher Hampton, there is no getting away from the traditionally Germanic lack of self-deprecation and an overearnest subject matter. Maybe Mr Kehlmann himself could have done with a mentor."
When this production opened at Bath Theatre Royal's Ustinov Studio in April 2017, Michael Billington in the Guardian comment that that, "even if the play's arguments about the subjectivity of art and the uncertainty of experience are familiar, the play is full of prickly comedy and offers 90 minutes of civilised pleasure... Laurence Boswell’s production plays up the comedy and gets good performances all round." Dominic Maxwell in the Times wrote: "An Oscar winner for his Salieri in Amadeus and a delectably nasty CIA black ops director in several seasons of Homeland, now F Murray Abraham is proving less deadly but just as calculating in this literary comedy by Daniel Kehlmann" that "allows Abraham to do what he does better than anyone: to blur the line between meanness and mischief, between the seductive and the vicious. His body stays still as he makes all the action happen in steady looks and dancing line-delivery." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail asked: "A German comedy? How can it possibly work?! The answer is with F. Murray Abraham at the helm... Written by German Daniel Kehlmann, deftly translated by Christopher Hampton." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph concluded by saying that "a harsher critic might snipe that this reads like a classy first draft – running to only 90 minutes, it would benefit from more detailed characterisation for Gina and a stronger resolution. It isn’t fully achieved, but then it has so deftly asked what 'fully achieved' entails that you accept its limitations, and lap up the agreeable satire."
"Despite the occasional funny line, the play is really saved from being a total bore by the undiminished stage charisma of F Murray Abraham, who is never anything less than rivetingly watchable: that patriarchal, lived-in face, something in his expression that hints at a very un-21st-century wisdom... Although Christopher Hampton smoothly translates, you can't quite see why he was so interested in this playlet. And apart from Abraham's performance, the rest of the acting is sometimes as broad and simplistic as the writing, with Daniel Weyman particularly am-dram at times. Polly Sullivan's eccentric set — sketchy trees and clouds, and chairs shaped like huge hands — is quite diverting, but as a discussion of art, love and life, The Mentor goes nowhere and offers only the feeblest cod philosophical insights. Kehlmann is highly regarded both as a playwright and a novelist in his native Germany, but has made little impact over here. Judging from this piece, a little cultural insularity is sometimes quite a good idea." The Sunday Times
"Daniel Kehlmann's The Mentor is a witty comedy of writerly egos. By juxtaposing a young writer jealous of an older writer's success and an old writer jealous of a younger writer's future, it offers an original slant on the classic clash of the generations... Daniel Kehlmann, a bestselling novelist, poet and screenwriter as well as dramatist, knows whereof he writes. There can be no greater tribute to the painful honesty of his play than that it has attracted the attention of translator extraordinaire, Christopher Hampton, who provides a superbly colloquial English version. Lawrence Boswell directs a first-rate cast, with Daniel Weyman and Naomi Frederick doing the honours for the younger generation and Oscar-winner, F Murray Abraham, in a welcome return to the British stage, doing the honours for the old. Best of all is Jonathan Cullen, the picture of flustered dignity as their exploited host." The Sunday Express
"Fresh from his villainous turn on Homeland, F Murray Abraham adds star power to this wickedly funny tale of two writers brimming with confidence – but not much talent... Daniel Kehlmann’s subject is the artistic ego, the subjectivity of opinion and how much truth anyone really wants to hear. It’s delicious stuff, smart and funny. The beautifully performed production unravels beneath the gently falling petals of a cherry blossom tree – a reminder that everything has its season and nothing lasts for ever. It’s anything but mediocre." The Mail on Sunday
"Here, in Daniel Kehlmann's witty but insubstantial four-hander, F. Murray Abraham brings a predatory ambiguity to the role of Benjamin Rubin. Ageing writer Rubin has spent his entire career clinging to the worldwide acclaim that greeted his only hit, The Long Road, written when he was 24. Now he is being paid a sizeable sum to mentor a much younger playwright, Martin, hailed as the voice of his generation on the basis of his first play. Rubin, though, is convinced Martin's new play is rubbish. Murray Abraham finds in the flagrantly monstrous Rubin a subtle vulnerability without ever letting him off the hook. The play's tension as Rubin takes down the pompous, self-inflated Martin is precisely Kehlmann's subject: what determines what constitutes great art, and do opinions really matter? Yet for all the merits of Laurence Boswell's crisply acted production, the play feels trapped in a niche echo chamber. And it's a pity that Kehlmann, having made Martin's wife Gina more than a token female character, should have her fall, ludicrously, for Rubin's charms. It's great to see Murray Abraham up close but it's a pity it s not in the service of something more worthy of his talents." The Metro
The Mentor in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 24 June 2017, opened on 4 July 2017 and closed on 2 September 2017