BWW Review: THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, The VaultsWe meet Ripley nervous, creeping paranoia about being followed, being found out, being Ripley, becoming almost too much to bear. But that gives way to the devilish delight in transgression, in seduction, in being Ripley. Who is this man?

He is, of course, Patricia Highsmith's immortal creation, a man who lives inside all of us, usually restrained by the superego, but occasionally let free. Her genius was in avoiding the stereotypes - Ripley is no gentleman con artist, no sophisticated society thief, no louche foreign gigolo, he's an ordinary Yankee boy adrift in a world in which the old ports no longer required regular visits. In 1955, Highsmith saw what possibilities the emerging post-war world offered such a chameleon and she wrote five tremendous novels about him.

Mark Leipacher's adaptation of the first of those, The Talented Mr Ripley, takes us back to Tom's (you see how easily he makes friends - it's "Tom" already) big break, his theft of dilettante Dickie Greenleaf's name, life and money. Perhaps even more importantly, Tom learns that all he needed to do was to be himself, in all that appalling glory, for the world to fall at his feet.

Christopher Hughes explicitly gives us both sides of Ripley - we see him talking to Greenleaf senior all innocence and brimming with helpful decency and we're privy to his thoughts as he barks them through the fourth wall directly to us. It's a slightly clumsy framing device, but perhaps necessary to establish Ripley in a 90 minutes all-through play.

Hughes is terribly energetic - this is Ripley not long out of his teens and finding his way as a con and not the sophisticate he later became - but the twinkle is always in the eye, the stories just credible enough to believe.

He gets fine support from Christopher York and Natasha Rickman as Dickie and Marge, whom we meet sunning themselves, drinking cocktails, so bored that the mysterious stranger proves irresistible. Both are young, naive and beautiful, as yet unaware that those blessings can be forged into a curse by the likes of Tom.

With Ripley appearing in so many film adaptations (including an unforgettable breakout role for Alain Delon), any stage version comes freighted with history. The Faction's version, wisely, simply ignores all that and goes back to its source material in the novel and tells its story (perhaps a little too swiftly for all its nuance to emerge) and that's plenty.

As the world seems as willing as ever to fall for the tricks of a new generation of Ripleys (though lacking his wit, manners and charisma), Highsmith's monster is as relevant today as ever he was.

And maybe, just maybe, we all need to be a little more Tom and a little less Dickie to survive these days.

You can read my review of the 1960 film adaptation starring Alain Delon, Plein Soleil, here.

The Talented Mr Ripley continues at The Vault Festival until 17 March.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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