To compile his one-man show, Velvet, Tom Ratcliffe combined personal experience and the disturbing revelations that emerged as the #MeToo movement gathered momentum. Following a highly successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and performances at the VAULT Festival earlier this year, he now brings a run to Above The Stag.
A sincere and amusing take on a serious subject.
As the big international stories of men behaving abusively towards women, taking advantage of their vulnerability, were hitting the headlines, Ratcliffe had already begun writing his story, which illustrated how gay men could find themselves in similar situations. The public statements that increasingly emerged from victims simply gave it added urgency. His character, Tom, is setting out on what he hopes will be a highly successful career, but he faces the problem common to so many actors of how to get started and where to find the break. He’s been trying for a few years, during which time he’s done the usual round of jobs to stay alive, attended endless auditions, had boyfriend issues and resorted to support from his parents. He believes in himself and that he will ultimately be successful, so hold out against all the pressures to give up. Then one day, while trolling Grindr, a figure appears who might just be the answer to his dreams. The man has power and control over the sort of opportunity Tom is looking for. His demands, however becoming increasingly personal and intimate, forcing Tom to consider what he’s prepared to do and risk in order to further his career.
The action is carried out on a chessboard floor, perhaps suggesting that actors are often mere pawns in a game that is dominated by a hierarchy of more powerful players who make predictable moves to achieve their goals and desires. A slightly camp chaise-longue carries the seductive overtones of the infamous casting couch
and perhaps also promises a more opulent future. Hanging above and behind it is the screen surrounded by dressing-room style lights on which the online chats appear, accompanied by the earnest, deep voice of the other person. It’s a basic set by Luke W Robson that carries all the right messages.
Ratcliffe comes over as an energetic and passionate guy who’s a delight to watch. He enthusiastically romps through the script relating the various aspects of Tom’s life and current situation with candour and humour. After a while, however, Andrew Twyman’s direction becomes rather formulaic. There are multiple conversations in which Ratcliffe eloquently plays both parties but often at a pace that is too rapid to reflect upon their substance. The movement follows a pattern of stand up, sit down, recline and repeat. Once the online conversations are underway, watching text appear on the screen and listening to the booming voice struggles to entertain.
Velvet is a sincere and amusing take on a serious subject, but Tom needs more depth and fleshing out as a character to sustain a level of interest that rises above the banter.