‘Rope’ is a 1929 British thriller crafted by Sussex-born playwright Patrick Hamilton, who died 60 years ago this week. The story was inspired by the real-life murder of a 14-year-old boy in 1924 by two Chicago university students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. On Broadway, it was known as ‘Rope’s End’. Hamilton was much admired by Graham Greene and JB Priestly.
After seeing a BBC play production with long takes, director Alfred Hitchcock was inspired in 1948 to make a feature film version that appeared to be one non-stop shot. With each spool lasting at max 30 minutes, he did the film in three mind-blowing, thirty-minute takes, ending each reel with the camera having someone walk in front of the lens or passing behind furniture. A staggering task.
This superb and gripping play for adults is being presented by the Rockingham Theatre Company and can be seen at the Rockingham Castle Theatre, 8 Attwood Way, Rockingham.
I was a little bit like so many others, on a public holiday, do I really want to see this weird play? So very glad I did. This whole production is something incredibly special. From a theatre that is famous for its superb farces, they now give us one of the tensest
and skilfully acted plays that I have seen for many months. Yes, very special.
The two-and-a-half-hour production has curtain up at 8.00 pm on 23rd, 24th, 30th Sept and 1st Oct. The 2.00 pm Sunday matinées are on 25th Sept and 2nd October.
The Scene: 1929. 8.40 pm on the first floor of an opulent house in Mayfair, London.
The Set designers: Rob Walker and Shaun Griffin have done a terrific job. The room has pale grey walls with white skirting and woodwork. There is one door to the left. On the right of the stage is a white carved statuary, marble fireplace surround on a black marble base crowned with a gilt mirror. There is a real fire flickering in the hearth, with a brass fire screen in front. The rear wall of the room has a 2.5-metre-wide window seat, with white leather cushions and a single step leading up to it. There are William Morris, pale cream striped curtains and white nets hung from a wooden curtain pole.
There is a long, low casual table with ice buckets and wine glasses. There are two small chairside tables. There are two cream-coloured velour-covered Louis XV wooden framed armchairs. To the left is a Victorian sideboard with a radio set on top. On the right corner is a teak drinks bar, and another sideboard with a table lamp on top. Centre stage is a large teak blanket chest.
Set construction; Rob Walker, Julia Della Franca and RTC volunteers. A beautiful set.
Lighting design: not credited, but outstanding. The light sources are the daylight streaming through the rear window in the opening scene into the very dark room. A table lamp with two, five-lamp classic brass-ring chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Even the light switch was a genuine brass one.
Lighting operator: Shaun Griffin, superb work. For the storm, good teamwork with the sound.
Sound designer: Peter Shaw has produced a most realistic storm and downpour.
Sound operator: Jayden Timms presented the soundscape at just the correct level – low is better when in doubt.
Properties: cast. Loved the old cigarette case and the embossed silver spec case. Rupert’s diamond-studded cummerbund was amazing.
Stage manager: Rach Gilmour had to supply a trolley full of top-class nibbles and drinks.
A particularly good and colourful programme in the Art Deco style of the 1930s. Posters by Kayti Murphy and Shaun Griffin.
Two young university students, Wyndham Brandon (Christopher Spencer) and Charles ‘Granno’ Granillo (Josh Watt) have murdered their poor harmless fellow student, Ronald Kentley, for fun and as an expression of their intellectual superiority.
As the curtains open, we catch the friends hiding Kentley’s body in a stout blanket chest in the drawing room.
As a sort of boast, the students then host a buffet party, prepared, and laid out by Miss Sabot (Miranda Santalucia) for the dead man’s friends. Even Ronald’s father, Sir Johnstone Kentley (Peter Shaw) and his new partner Mrs Debenham (Katherine Summers) are eating around the locked chest containing the boy’s corpse. Kenneth Raglan (Max Kingsbury) and Leila Arden (Brontë Born) joke as to the possible contents of the strange chest.
The long-time family friend, lame poet, Rupert Cadell (Jamie Jewell) recalls Wyndam’s childhood fantasies.
Will the boys get away with the murder?
Director Shaun Griffin and his assistant director Jayden Timms are both relatively new to directing, and yet with most of the inexperienced cast having quite long passages or monologues, the director had to keep the interest of the audience held. The opening scene in the dark with just the daylight streaming through was a piece of genius. It kept the audience curious. Miranda’s French maid performance convinced us that she was indeed French, with the fabulous purring of the dialogue.
Max and Brontë were the couple who subtly started the panic. The two young students are Christopher Spencer in his first significant role, and Josh Watt in his first main stage public performance. The two worked with confidence and a total grasp of their characters, Spencer as the big-headed braggart, and Josh as the weaker friend who just goes along with his friend’s fantasies. Peter was moving as the wealthy father of the boy the students had just killed. His girlfriend, Mrs Debenham was delightful giving just the right amount of relief from the tension in the room with her dim-witted replies.
I last saw Jamie (Rupert Cadell) as a cross-dressing hotel waiter, now he has gone the full gamut with the serious and highly perceptive family friend Rupert. They say if you can get the walk right the rest will fall into place, Jamie’s limp and slight waddle was perfect for the part. I think that Jamie should be in with a good chance of a WA male actor of the year nomination, with a few more awards to others in the cast.
All of the dialogue was spoken with authentic, good natural upper-crust English accents.
Recently I have been amazed at the quality of the theatre community’s productions. Everyone seems to be exceptional. Here again, the production quality was faultless.
Rockingham is not as far away as many think so make the journey and be prepared to sit in suspense as you watch amazing acting from a virginal cast.
Congratulations to Rockingham on taking the risk on such a difficult and serious play, but they absolutely conquered it. Well done to all.