ROPE To 6 February.

Almeida Theatre Almeida Street N1 1TA To 6 February 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 30 Dec, 20 Jan, 3 Feb 2.30pm.
no performance 24-27 Dec.
Audio-described 30 Jan 3pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 16 Jan 3pm, 2 Feb.
Post-show discussion 25 Jan.
Runs 1hr 50min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7359 4404.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 December.

Sometimes a production can try too hard.
Over Christmas, at the Almeida, a play by one of 20th-century English Literature’s most extreme depressives, Patrick Hamilton. Rope is based on a 1924 American case, where two young men murdered another because they could. Transferred to the England of quite-high society London and Oxford, Rope opens as the victim’s body is stowed in a chest on which drinks are laid-out for a group including the dead man’s father.

Both Granillo and the more confident Brandon (men address each other by surnames in this society) have a coldness towards their crime, though Granillo (a fraught Alex Waldmann) breaks down and give the game way in paroxysms of fearful guilt. As their nemesis, Cadell, Bertie Carvell, shows a moral outrage at one with his anger against the murderous war which seems to have left him limping as well as bitter. It is, though, Blake Ritson’s cold calculation as Brandon that governs the evening.

Only once does Roger Michell’s production allow human vulnerability to show; when Michael Elwyn, as the book-loving father, so grateful to the murderers for the parcel of volumes they give him, becomes probably more worried than he cares to show at a ‘phone-call from his wife to say their son’s not returned home.

That’s right enough, a single shaft within the play’s cold glint; he’s unaware the books have been wrapped on the chest where his son’s corpse lies. And it’s Hamilton’s key decision to ensure the audience knows what has happened; tension focuses on the culprits’ responses to their action, Granillo’s agony, Brandon’s delight in outwitting their little world of dullness and vapidity. Though even this author resorts to a piece of traditional ’tec trickery – a theatre-ticket rather obviously used – to reveal to the relentless Cadell, what has happened.

The play holds its grip. But Michell can try too hard – the in-the-round staging tends to lose focus and presents poor sightlines, and while the near-dark opening (Hamilton stipulates the lights are out) gives a suitable edginess, in full-lighting the acting can seem over-mannered. And Hamilton provides a strong ending, which hardly needs capping by a production effect.

Wyndham Brandon: Blake Ritson.
Charles Granillo: Alex Waldmann.
Sabot: Philip Arditti.
Kenneth Raglan: Henry Lloyd-Hughes.
Leila Arden: Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Mrs Debenham: Emma Dewhurst.
Sir Johnston Kentley: Michael Elwyn.
Rupert Cadell: Bertie Carvel.

Director: Roger Michell.
Designer: Mark Thompson.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: John Leonard.
Voice/Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Lotte Wakeham.

2009-12-18 10:36:34

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