Velvet

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Megan Denny

at 22:05 on 15th Aug 2018

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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival can always be relied on to present a huge array of topical pieces, with staple subjects including Brexit, Trump and, most recently, the #MeToo Movement. If you are searching through the masses for a unique slant on the scandal that has exposed the darkest possible side of casting couch culture, look no further than ‘VELVET’.

The one-man show, written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe, follows a young actor as he encounters an increasingly dark spiral of sexual exploitation at the hands of a casting agent, ‘Daniel’, who promises to make him "a superstar". Their WhatsApp messages are scrolled through on a screen behind the actor and simultaneously performed, with ‘Daniel’s’ being communicated via a deeply sinister voiceover. As the horrors of the story unfold, the detachment and manipulation represented in this voice becomes genuinely sickening, contrasting with the vulnerability of his victim.

While the sub-plots exploring other aspects life of the young actor occasionally seem unnecessary, these threads intertwine at the climax of the play. The final twist in the audition scene is unexpected and a thought-provoking end to a play which feels tragically predictable in a disturbingly hypnotic way, as opposed to boring. Indeed, much of the language of the play echoes what we have heard countless times in media coverage of the #MeToo movement: destroying a "career that someone has spent decades building" over a "misunderstanding". It is important, however, that ‘VELVET’ discusses a side of this movement often neglected - male victims of sexual harassment, including gay men.

The fact that the character of the young actor is also called Tom adds a sense of intimacy to his story. Although Ratcliffe does take on a number of different roles very capably throughout the play, I never seem to shake the feeling that I am being told an anecdote by someone I know personally, and this level of emotional engagement is what makes ‘VELVET’ so successful.

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Millie Haswell

at 01:59 on 16th Aug 2018

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When visiting Edinburgh Fringe, you expect to encounter occasional self-obsessed actors talking about themselves and their careers to you. The trouble with Velvet is that it is literally an hour of this. Legend has it that for a one man show to succeed, the single performer must be likeable; Tom Ratcliffe’s diva-ish demeanour is annoying and at times draining.

Of course, you feel sympathy for the character (also called Tom, making the show feel unsettlingly personal). Talking to ‘Daniel’, a dubious casting director on Grindr, Tom is conned into believing that by flirting – and more, as the plot unfurls – he can win himself a part in the new Star Wars film. To victim blame Tom would be unfair and inaccurate, since he is clearly maltreated and manipulated by ‘Daniel’, a self-proclaimed bigshot who wants Tom to "suck his thick powerful dick" and "beg to be famous."

It’s not that material like this, whether fictional or based on real events, shouldn’t be shown onstage – quite the opposite. In fact it is especially important that male victims are not forgotten in the narratives of #TimesUp. Ratcliffe, the writer and sole performer of Velvet, is certainly gutsy to stick his neck out alone onstage and tell such a raw story.

Moreover many elements of the production are impressive; Ratcliffe’s multiple roles are performed subtly and clearly, with minute vocal changes or hand gestures signalling whether his mother or a sexual predator is speaking. In some ways, his self-absorbed persona is compelling in a grotesque way, climaxing with a horrific video of Tom jerking off and pleading with ‘Daniel’ to make him a star. It certainly suits the one-man show format; you can’t help but lean in to listen to the stomach-twisting examples of abuse discussed and presented onstage, from flippant gossip to graphic scenes. Even the set, though tasteful and minimalist, becomes nauseating to look at, with the black and white hospital floor tiles, screen displaying harassing messages and sleazy velvet sofa.

Ratcliffe is evidently a talented individual; well-acted and slick as 'Velvet' is though, it becomes grating listening to a drama school graduate spiralling into increasing desperation.

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