Rope by Patrick Hamiton
Performed at The Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College in October and November 2013
It was difficult to know what to expect from Rope. It was not a play I had read or come across before. All I knew of it was that there was a Hitchcock connection; he directed a screen production in 1948. This suggested that the audience could be in store for an evening of suspense. And suspense was what the cast and crew delivered, threw some skilful direction and intelligent performances.
The play tells the story of two young university students in 1920s London who appear to have murdered their fellow student as an expression of their intellectual superiority. They place his body in a chest on which they serve a buffet for their assorted guests (including the father of the deceased) in their Mayfair flat.
The set was simple but very effectively dressed with some well placed pieces of furniture that were evocative of the 1920s era. The play opened with our student killers in opposing places. Charles (Robert Pastore) is starting to unravel as he grapples with what has happened, while in contrast Wyndham (Christopher Morphy-Godber) appears to be on a high, as he marvels at his own cleverness. This creates an immediate tension as Wyndham has to take charge of the situation and his companion.
Both Robert and Christopher delivered charismatic performances as the central characters. Robert perfectly captured a man on the edge, barely holding it together, while Christopher clearly enjoyed himself in a performance that exuded confidence. They formed a great partnership as together they ramped up the tension between the two characters.
These central performances were complemented by those of the supporting cast. Michael Marsden brought a wonderful energy in his role as Kenneth bringing some welcome comic relief. While Lily Sida-Murray sparkled as a bright young thing; firing off her lines with an impressively delivery. Strong support was also delivered by Joshua Bradley-Hall, Ian Jones and Sue Grindlay in their respective roles. A final highlight was Charlie Maynard who delivered an accomplished performance as Rupert Cadell who turns the tables on his hosts (and former students) as he pieces together their crime.
I am convinced the strength of the performances was largely due to Sophie’s skill as a director. Having acted with her I know how committed she is to a production, and it was clear from the outset we were in good hands. I was particularly impressed by how well she got her cast moving across the stage, which helped to bring the production to life and maintain my interest. I know from experience this is no easy thing; actors like to huddle and are seem to be hard-wired to form a straight line.
This said I did feel there was room for improvement in some areas. At times the actors were performing to the floor rather than the audience, some of the movement felt a little awkward and in the final scene the actors could have done more to hold the tension physically. However, overall, this felt like a polished production, from the professional appearance of the poster to the attention to the detail in the costuming and make-up (Robert’s shoes and Ian’s whiskers are worthy of mention here) as well as the atmospheric sound and lighting effects. Congratulations to Sophie and her team for all their hard work. It paid off.
Review by Edward Langley