Theatre review: Rope

Posted on: 29 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the dark classic Rope at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

A chilling anatomy of apparently motiveless murder is provided by Patrick Hamilton in his dark classic Rope which is revived in a splendid new production directed by Roger Mitchell at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

In a Mayfair flat Oxford undergraduate Brandon seeks excitement and little cares how he gets it. He persuades his weak-minded friend Granillo to assist him in the murder of a fellow graduate. The two place the body in a wooden chest and, to add spice to their handiwork, invite a few acquaintances, including the dead man’s father, round to a party, the chest with its gruesome contents serving as a supper table. As the sandwiches, caviar, cake and champagne flow, unusual facts start to surface. The horror and tension are worked up gradually; thunder roars outside, the guests leave and we see the reactions of the two murderers, watched closely by the one remaining guest, the poet Rupert Cadell, who suspects his hosts might just be hiding something.

Based on a real life cause celebre: the notorious 1924 Leopold and Loeb child murder case in Chicago, the play was written in 1929 (and later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock), at a time which witnessed the Wall Street Crash and the world tumbling into the Great Depression and finally fascism and war. Indeed the rumbling undercurrents of violence and cruelty that are conveyed so potently seems to echo today, 80 years later, in our so-called “enlightened” society. Hamilton has in fact taken this study of intellectual bravado, of two individuals believing themselves to be beyond good and evil and the herd of morality that governed lesser beings and combined it with the gay subtext to produce a finely geared drama with a vein of sardonic humour running through it.

Performed in the round, Mark Thompson’s spare set and Rick Fisher’s effective use of light and darkness are shrewdly judged and create just the right ominous atmosphere.

Under Roget Michell’s excellent direction, this vintage thriller achieves a new lease of life, mainly thanks to three stellar performances from Black Ritson as the angular, athletic Brando, Alex Waldmann as his fidgety, nervous accomplice Granillo and, best of all, Bertie Carvell as the calculating, confident Rupert Cadell, the voice of reason and the play’s only true moral character.

In short then, this intelligent and compelling drama provides a welcome antidote to all the seasonal festivities.

By Laurence Green

Where: Almeida Theatre, Islington

When: plays until 6 February 2010

Box Office: 020 7359 4404

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