Review – Rope by Patrick Hamilton

Rope by Patrick Hamilton – New Wolsey Theatre till March 17th

If you say ‘Rope,’ most people they would probably think of the Hitchcock film. In fact writer Patrick Hamilton was one of the most successful of his day before he drank himself to death in the early 60’s. He was a very prolific novelist and also penned the equally iconic play – Gaslight.

But these plays – and others like it from this era, are really of their day. They are at best wordy, one set, pedestrian affairs. Can a modern day company do anything with them to make them appeal to a modern audience – or should they be consigned to the annuals of history?

The plot is based on a real life murder case of the time in America which audiences then would have known well. Two Oxford students decide to murder a fellow under graduate for the thrill of trying to get away with it. And in a macabre twist decide to hide the body in a chest in full view and invite the deceased’s friends and family round for a late supper – little suspecting they are eating their sandwiches off the vessel that holds the last remains of their loved one.

Sensibly Director Douglas Rintoul decided to keep the play firmly rooted in the 1920’s – and so everyone has perfect cut glass accents and are suited and booted to match. The set is a lovely facsimile of a London apartment – and the period details are spot on.

George Kemp is excellent as the scheming, amoral Brandon who plots the whole show – and James Sutton equally good as his co conspirator Granillo, who increasingly loses his nerve as the evening progresses and he succumbs to the bottle. They are supported by a fine cast including Fred Lancaster and Phoebe Sparrow as the ‘Bright Young Things’ representing the new generation and Sam Jenkins- Shaw playing grizzled Rupert Cadell – veteran of the War and old before his time.

But nothing could make up for the creaking plot, the even more creaky script and the terribly laboured pace that at times was like watching paint dry. This was billed as a spine tingling thriller but the only tingles my spine got was the rather chilly air in the under heated auditorium.

As the evening wore on I was longing for a twist in the tale – some drama – some build up of tension. What we got was endless moralising and even more endless clearing of sandwiches, wrapping parcels and lighting cigarettes. The plot was so laboured that by the time we got to the final denouncement via a moralising speech  the audience weren’t sure whether the play had finished or not. And the cast seemed unsure themselves!!

I’m sure this was good in its time – and the cast cannot be faulted for giving it their best – but these plays have had their day. The world and the world of theatre has moved on. Please do us and them a favour and put them to bed for good.

Suzanne Hawkes

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