The Vaults, London – until 3 February 2019
Tom’s had a big break in getting the lead in a Fringe play right out of drama school, he’s just moved in with his banker boyfriend of three years, and he couldn’t be happier. Ish. He’s even attracted the attentions of a big casting director but when Tom rejects his less-than-professional advances, he finds himself trapped in a nightmarish downwards spiral.
Velvet is written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe and taps directly into the #MeToo movement, approaching it from a slightly different angle. Tom may be cute and fit but acting is a cut-throat profession that mostly pays peanuts and as such, leaves far too many people open to exploitation. And sure enough, as he promotes his play on Grindr, Tom is drawn into a dangerous game.
Ratcliffe’s script is not fully auto-biographical but draws from personal experience, and it shows. He’s a hugely personable figure onstage, throwing himself into witty impersonations of acting industry types, sending up their behaviour but also demonstrating the toll they take on hopes and dreams. Agents full of promises, directors with probing eyes, it’s all too easy to be seduced into believing everything they say.
Taking a gay perspective on the #MeToo narrative also proves thought-provoking, challenging something of our preconceptions about the sexualisation of much of gay culture, about men’s status as victims, just where the line is drawn when it comes to harassment. Ratcliffe doesn’t absolve Tom of all responsibility – something to bear in mind when it comes to dick pics and sex tapes – but spares us nothing of the consequences here.
Andrew Twyman’s production is full of interest as Ratcliffe moves rapidly from scene to scene, switching from emotional monologues to flirty Grindr chat, crowded aftershow parties to WhatsApp chats loaded with significance (the pain of seeing someone online who is not replying is a truly universal modern curse) and Jack Weir’s lighting helps to delineate these shifts with real skill. A powerful piece.