Watermill - Rope
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Watermill - Rope

19th September to 27th October 2007.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Without a hitch

Fresh look 1920s psychological thriller made famous by Hitchcock

Rope, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until October 27

Director Tom Daley has boldly revived Patrick Hamilton's psychological thriller Rope, written in 1929 and made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film, at The Watermill theatre.

The play is not a whodunit because we know immediately that the urbane Brandon (Gyuri Sarossy) and his uptight, handsome friend Granillo (Jake Harders) have murdered a fellow student and buried his body in a chest in their living room.

With echoes of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, they cover the chest with sumptuous canapés and invite the deceased's unwitting father over for a soirée. They strangled the athletic, happy-go-lucky lad for fun, throttling him with rope. For the killers, the real thrill will come later during the party where they will learn if their crime is uncovered. Will they fool their brilliant friend Rupert (Edmund Kingsley), a man with a deductive mind and a cynical disposition?

The production is staged in the round, an intelligent decision that heightens the claustrophobic tension and makes the audience believe it is a fly on the wall. The physical intimacy with the performers makes us moral spectators and not passive recipients of an entertainment.

The programme notes indicate that Hamilton was a neighbour of JB Priestley for a while; the two playwrights share a philosophical subtext to their drawing room detective dramas - with Priestly it is Heidegger, and with Hamilton, Nietzsche. Brandon in particular believes himself to be a superman, and in Sarossy's engrossing, foxy performance, Brandon's default mood of calm joviality erupts suddenly into primitive, vicious vitriol when his supposedly superior intelligence is challenged by events.

As in Max Frisch's Biedermann and the Arsonists, the villainous Brandon is open about his villainy admitting, albeit in jest, that he did indeed carry out a murder. How galling it is for him that his pretty guest Leila (Jennifer Higham), a girl "too philistine for words" unwittingly describes his nefarious act to the letter.

The detective conventions play second fiddle to Hamilton's more serious concerns, about the equivalence of soldiers in war and deliberate acts of murder.

Lucy Osborne's compact set and David Holmes' lighting design work wonders in the space. Well recommended.

JON LEWIS

From Newbury Theatre.

Bored? Looking for some excitement in your life? Why not go out and commit a motiveless murder. And then to spice it up some more, put the body in a chest and invite your friends round for a meal. Eaten off the chest. Among the jeunesse dorée in London at the end of the ’20s are two Oxford undergraduates, Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo. Brandon is the confident, bullying leader who believes he can get away with it; Grano is his reluctant henchman.

In Patrick Hamilton’s thriller, the tension builds from the start, with the two men jittery in a darkened room, and the body in the box. But the pace is generally relaxed, with long pauses when people pour drinks or light cigarettes – a lot of cigarettes get smoked.

The guests include Sir Johnstone Kentley (Nicholas Lumley) and his monosyllabic sister Mrs Debenham (Virginia Denham). Lumley, last seen at the Watermill in Little Voice, is in fine form and the pathos as Kentley’s confidence slips away is touching.

The cat and mouse game between Brandon and war-wounded poet Rupert Cadell accounts for much of the plot. Edmund Kingsley’s Cadell is an intriguing character and I was quite mesmerised by this outstanding performance. Equally sparky is Gyuri Sarossy’s Brandon, epitomising the confidence of youth.

The decision of director Tom Daley and designer Lucy Osborne to stage it in the round adds to the claustrophobic feel – Brandon and Grano are surrounded; there is no escape.

An unusual and in some ways weird play, with strong performances from all the cast.

PAUL SHAVE

There is a review at The Stage ("Tom Daley’s direction is tightly controlled and tension is increased as the plot progresses").