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A CurtainUp London Review
The Mentor
"If I knew what it was about then I wouldn't have to write it." — Martin Wegner
The Mentor
Daniel Weyman as Martin Wegner, Jonathan Cullen as Erwin Rudicek, Naomi Frederick as Gina Wegner and F Murray Abraham as Benjamin Rubin (Photo: Simon Annand)
The Mentor is about the creative process that is writing, in this case playwriting. F Murray Abraham plays Benjamin Rubin, a man whose very successful play The Long Road was staged when he was just 24 years old. Now a veteran, Rubin has been signed up to coach an emerging playwright Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman) by an artistic charity in five days of mentoring. They find themselves in private rooms in a courtyard dominated by a cherry tree in blossom and two stone armchairs shaped like enormous cupped hands.

German novelist Daniel Kehlmann regularly tops the German best seller list, outselling JK Rowling and Dan Brown in Germany. The Mentor is his second play. Translated by Christopher Hampton, and first staged in English at the Ustinov Studio in Bath, the producers were hoping to find another European playwright like Florian Zeller, the author of The Father, or even as in the association with Hampton's translation, Yasmina Reza who gave us Art a play about artistic differences.

Edwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen), the arts administrator who would really prefer to concentrate on his painting, is charged with getting them there and facilitating their meeting. He carries with him photographs of his "mood" paintings on his mobile phone. In fact this play shows the need for those involved in the arts to earn from other sources. Rudicek really doesn't want to be an administrator and Rubin and Wegner are also doing it for the money. In fact most of Rubin's income in supporting two ex wives comes from writing screenplays not plays for the stage.

Benjamin Rubin wants whisky; no, not the Johnny Walker offered by Rudicek but a single malt, a Speyside malt called Cragganmore. His tastes are those of a successful and valued author. But this will not be his first disappointment. Martin Wegner has arrived at the arts centre accompanied by his glamorous wife Gina (Naomi Frederick) who has read Rubin's play five times as a schoolgirl and who greatly admires the older author. Her agenda is that she is fed up being the breadwinner in her marriage and her biological clock is ticking.

On show in the play are the sensitive egos associated with putting oneself into one's writing. Daniel Wegner's last rather obscure play featured a cast of 35 and a cement mixer. The new one is called Without a Title. Wegner gives Rubin his play script and the first comment that comes back is to ask what font he used and then to mention a misplaced apostrophe! The two authors fall out and Wegner leaves but not before throwing his lap top and script into the pond, and Gina is thrown into close proximity with the older man.

It is a joy to see F Murray Abraham onstage with his range of theatrical experience but somehow the subject matter of this 80 minute play felt too personal and too complicated for it to play as anything other than an unsatisfactory comedy.





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PRODUCTION NOTES
The Mentor
Written by Daniel Kehlmann
Directed by Laurence Boswell
Starring: F Murray Abraham
With: Daniel Weyman, Naomi Frederick, Jonathan Cullen
Designer: Polly Sullivan
Lighting Design: Colin Grenfell
Composer and Sound Design: Dave Prince
Running time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0330 333 4814
Booking to 2nd September 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th July 2017 performance at the Vaudeville Theatre The Strand, London WC2R 0NH (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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