Review: Rope, by Patrick Hamilton, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until March 17
PUBLISHED: 10:34 09 March 2018
Inspired by real-life events, Rope is most famous for Hitchcock’s filmed version with James Stewart, a failed experiment in long, single take film-making which never really came off. Seeing Rope on stage makes you realise that Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play is much darker, much funnier and more complex than Hitchcock’s rather strange transplanting of the story to 1940s New York would have you believe.
Much like Patrick Hamilton’s other stage hit, Gaslight, Rope is very much a play of its time and the period setting is just as much a character in the play as any of the people. As the play opens, the two central characters Brandon and Granillo are stuffing a dead body into a chest in the middle of their sitting room. They are about to host an informal gathering of friends and think it will be a wheeze to have everyone eating off the chest containing the dead body – at least Brandon does, Granillo is having trouble coming to terms with the enormity of the crime they have just committed.
Rope is an amazingly amoral play and as such feels that it should have been written by someone like John Osborne or Alan Sillitoe in the early 1960s rather in the late 1920s. During the play there are lots of sharp observations about the nature of morality, justice and the conventions of a civilised society. It’s a witty play, filled with lots of black humour and the dynamic between Brandon, Granillo and their poet friend Rupert Cadell is sharp and edgy and well-played by the three leads George Kemp, James Sutton and Sam Jenkins-Shaw.
Phoebe Sparrow and Fred Lancaster supply plenty of laughs as the dim but sweet Bright Young Things who don’t take long to work out that they really should share a taxi home together.
The wonderful set by Ruari Murchison anchors the play in London during the late ‘20s and, with the atmospheric lighting, lends a lot of atmosphere to the staging. The one disappointing element of the evening was director Douglas Rintoul’s very pedestrian pacing of the scenes. It was all very sedate with plenty of long, empty pauses, and pregnant pauses as people left the room to answer doors or fetch things. Whether these were supposed to be meaningful or to raise the tension level, it’s difficult to say because they did neither, they just took the pacing out of what else was a wickedly enjoyable evening.