Patrick Hamilton’s 'Rope' seems perfectly designed for the close, intimate confines of the Corpus Playroom. The murder of Ronald Kentley by his fellow students Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, for no motive other than intellectual curiosity, precedes the play’s inception. As such, the drama lies not in the deed, which has already taken place, but in the psychological temperament of the protagonists during the dinner party which forms the play’s sole action. In short, it relies much upon the emotional atmosphere created by its actors.
Olivia Stamp’s production certainly prospers in this respect. The tension is palpable from the first scene and sets an uncomfortable tone for the remainder of the evening. In another play, such a jarring effect might reflect badly on the cogency of the acting, but in this instance, the disjunction between Brandon’s coolness and Granillo’s agitation is aptly unnerving. Oliver Mosley’s panache is initially the more convincing, his blend of superiority and confidence making Brandon suitably unloveable, while the absolute anxiety displayed by Alasdair McNab seems to be somewhat caricatured. By the play’s end, however, Granillo’s sheer horror at what he has done comes potently to the fore, his wails of agony at the corner of the stage possessing a disturbingly visceral quality.
The most captivating performance, though, comes from Ben Walsh as poet Rupert Cadell. His striking features endow the character with a complicated eeriness. This impression is matched by his use of tone, the softness of his voice suggesting gentle irony but often providing a sharp contrast with his acerbic words. Indeed, this dryness provides the play’s most humorous moments among the suspense. Kyle Turakhia’s role in this dynamic is inspired, too. As Kenneth Raglan, his silly, bumbling nature contrasts with Rupert’s apparent wiliness. The brittleness of the bond between the dinner party attendees is further emphasised by Eleanor Colville as Leila Arden; the split between the joyful naivety of her and Kenneth and the lofty intellectual air of Brandon and Rupert is well crafted. Even Claire Burchett manages to add to the intrigue’s mystery in her mostly silent role as Mrs Debenham, her poised gaze intimating an otherworldliness.
As this collective uneasiness aptly accompanies the growing suspense its magnitude threatens to send the play into farce. Rupert’s return at the dénouement, however, utterly dispels this notion. Walsh’s enactment of his unravelling from surety to bewildered rage almost outdoes the discovery of the crime in its force. The somewhat primal nature of the final scene reminds us that behind the superficial air of intellectuality, there lies a human being with instinctive reactions like any other. As such, this production renders the play an exploration not just of the consequences of murder on the killers’ psyche, but a broader probe into human nature. Ultimately, it is this further complexity which makes the play such a success.
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'Rope' is playing at the Corpus Playroom at 7.00pm until Saturday 1st. Get your tickets online at https://www.corpusplayroom.com/whats-on/drama/rope.aspx
All Image Credits: Alice Walker