by Patrick Hamilton.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre Port-Na-Craig Pitlochry PH16 5DR In rep to 12 October 2012.
TICKETS: 01796 484626.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 August.
Decidedly – well, ropey.
Pitlochry’s current Ayckbourn shows the company at its best. But this revival of Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 thriller is a sad affair, with no sense of an ensemble. Rope has a coldness justified only by the writer’s understanding of degradation; no writer apart from Dostoyevsky knew about inner humiliation like Hamilton. And just as Crime and Punishment shows the slow unravelling of certainty in a murderer who believed morality did not apply to him, so this play deals with a murder committed by two affluent young men simply because they could.
It drew on a notorious American case from five years earlier, the Leopold and Loeb murder – to which Richard Baron’s production briefly refers in early physical intimacies between killers Brandon and Granillo – then adds a cruelty befitting Greek myth as the murderers invite friends, including the dead man’s father, to a supper eaten from the top of the chest containing the carcase.
All detection’s done, and moral views expressed, by their war-wounded chum Rupert. The play can be a gripping, grinding journey, marked by the contrast between Brandon’s confidence and Granillo’s borderline panic, gaining intensity when Rupert pins the evidence on him – literally, with a pin he’s just borrowed from the man.
Almost twenty years after the premiere Alfred Hitchcock filmed an American adaptation, famously creating a claustrophobic, seamless feel. A production needs comparable intensity, and concentrated performances. And, while it is a dark and stormy night, external effects should intensify, not seek to create, atmosphere.
Here, it’s all external effects. Thunder and lightning, mysterious shadows and a telltale theatre ticket work well enough. But the acting’s as external. Rupert tries too hard consistently to demonstrate moral indignation to give reality to the feeling. And when Hamilton has Leila Arden say she always runs around when it thunders, it’s a society lady covering her lack of composure after jumping at a crash, not an excuse, as here, for the character to begin a slalom around the room.
Pitlochry veteran Robin Harvey Edwards does well as the dead man’s father, cheerfully benevolent then increasingly anxious. Otherwise, this is a depressing tale.
Wyndham Brandon: Elliot Harper.
Charles Granillo: Charlie Tighe.
Sabot: Natasha Lewis.
Kenneth Raglan: Joseph Mann.
Leila Arden: Emily Altneu.
Sir Johnstone Kentley: Robin Harvey Edwards.
Mrs Debenham: Jacqueline Dutoit.
Rupert Cadell: Dan Smith.
Director: Richard Baron.
Designer/Costume: Frances Collier.
Lighting Pete Appleby.
Fight director: Raymond Short.