Samuel Gallet’s adaptation of Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel tracks the rise of far-right ideology in an unnamed European country through the lens of a small local theatre.
Translated by Chris Campbell, it needles into white, middle-class liberal hypocrisy with icy precision. But despite the glass-like clarity of the translation, Gallet’s adaptation sprawls.
There’s a sly self-awareness in Gallet’s satire of the arts, most notably in the way Leo Bill’s slippery, odious Aymeric, is apparently outraged by the rise of the far right at the start of his career, but quickly drops his morals in pursuit of fame and influence. As Aymeric progresses into the upper echelons and the far right rises and keeps rising, the play’s form begins to fissure under the pressure. Traditional forms just won’t cut it anymore.
Increasingly, the satire strains at the edges of the Gate’s narrow playing space like it might just burst out of the room, in a manner which, at its very best, is desperately thrilling. Basia Binkowska’s gaudily gold-mirrored and red-carpeted design becomes more and more claustrophobic, a tacky gilded cage hemming the audience in alongside the actors and leaving one gasping for air.
Mephisto [A Rhapsody] is, at its core, a consideration of theatre’s social efficacy, and Kirsty Housley’s slightly heightened, headily intense direction has a palpable vein of fury and terror which runs just under the surface. But it increasingly feels like the piece’s self-awareness can only go so far before it sputters out. It never reaches the socially transformative heights that it seeks – but then again, is that even possible?