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Warmly received when it opened in Bath earlier this year, this 80 minute piece by German novelist and dramatist Daniel Kehlmann seems somewhat insubstantial on a larger West End stage, despite the welcome presence of veteran American actor F Murray Abraham in the leading role.

The Homeland star plays Benjamin Rubin, a cantankerous, arrogant aging writer who had a massive hit decades earlier when he was just 24 but has never written anything nearly as good since. For a fee of 10,000 Euros, he’s agreed to spend a week mentoring Daniel Weyman’s Martin -   a young playwright hailed as “the voice of his generation” for a play involving not only a cast of 35 but a cement mixer as well.

Translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Laurence Boswell, the production looks pretty with its hand-shaped chairs and relaxing colour scheme, but it’s hard to believe that Martin’s elegant art historian wife (no matter how big a fan of Rubin’s sole significant work) would fall for the old man’s flattery, and the philosophical points this short play tries to make are hardly profound.

Still, one sympathises with Jonathan Cullen’s arts administrator Erwin, forced (as the hosting arts foundation’s representative) to deal with Rubin’s unrealistic demands – though not with his own aspirations to be an artist himself. And Kehlmann, considerably helped by Abraham’s easy stage presence, delivers some wryly comic moments and succeeds in showing just how fragile – and competitive - male egos can be in the creative world of subjective judgements.

Vaudeville, Strand WC2R 0NH

Tube: Charing Cross

Until 2nd September 2017

£19.50 - £52.50  + premium seats



Theatre Review: The Mentor
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