Picture it. Two handsome young men – one urbane, the other highly-strung – commit an unspeakable act as a supposedly intellectual exercise, then contrive to shamelessly flaunt their terrible undertaking before an unwitting audience.
But that’s quite enough about the Whingers.
Patrick Hamilton‘s classic old thriller Rope, revived at the Almeida, follows a similar trajectory. It is based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case which has inspired a whole slew of a works including films ( Swoon, Michael Haneke‘s Funny Games and his shot-by-shot remake) the play Never the Sinner by Red writer John Logan, a musical Thrill Me and of course Alfred Hitchcock‘s film version of this play.
Hamilton’s take on the story opens with Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo (Blake Ritson* and Alex Waldmann, both left) putting the body of Ronald Kentley** into the trunk and then sitting around discussing the murder and how they plan to serve their guests (including the dead man’s father) drinks and supper set upon the chest. The only light in the scene comes from the fire in the hearth (very good) and although it’s in the text the Whingers did wonder it was something of a misjudgement to make it quite so dark as the first few minutes consist of very clunky exposition and sadly the effect of the darkness is to focus all one’s attention on the rather unsatisfactory words.
Phil found that the clunkiness gave way to long-winded creakiness but Andrew was more than happy with the pace. Given its age and genre Rope has weathered rather well – and much better than the recently revived Gaslight – and this production is very polished, actorly and wisely respectful of the thriller-cum-melodrama material.
It’s true that things don’t really start to zing until the fey and foppish Rupert Cavell (Bertie Carvel, right) joins the party and suspicions begin to form. Carvel’s performance is a treat, affecting a bizarre accent, brandishing a cane and displaying a limp it’s a performance that so easily have gone the other way. As it is, it’s something of a triumph of audaciousness***.
And what is it with limps at the moment? Kevin Spacey displayed a fine limp in Inherit the Wind, while David Troughton appeared to have a real one, and there are two currently on display in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Is limping this year’s on stage vomiting?
The production really shines during the moments that Kitson (in a very assured performance) and Cavell play cat and mouse with each other but there is also some terrific support from other players, notably Phoebe Waller-Bridge (left) as the shallow but good-hearted flapper Leila (We now wish we had seen Roaring Trade at the Soho Theatre which featured Miss Waller-Bridge and rising Cock star Andrew Scott). She and her nice-but-dim potential suitor Henry Lloyd-Hughes have a lot of fun discussing films and actresses with “good” as the only adjective at their disposal.
Thrillingly for the Whingers, Miss Waller-Bridge is called upon to wrap up a parcel of books using brown paper and string live on stage. She’s a game girl but she can’t wrap parcels for toffee which is sad because everyone else on stage has to marvel at her parcel-wrapping skills and we really did have to wonder whether director Roger Michell even bothered asking her to wrap a parcel at the audition. If he didn’t that is surely professional negligence on his part.
Still, both are easily forgiven. Waller-Bridge is as bright as a button Michell’s production plays it straight as an arrow and delivers a fine sense of the period thanks to Mark Thompson‘s design.
The whole thing is conducted at a single hour-and-three-quarters sitting and the Whingers emerged into the crisp Islington air very satisfied with a production which – in their humble opinions – outclasses the play.
There must, of course, be one major whinge. It is customary when booking at the Almeida for the Whingers to take advantage of the theatre’s rather generous discounting of restricted view seats. The views are rarely that restricted and the savings can be quite generous. However on this occasion every seat should have been discounted because everyone has a restricted view: Rope has been staged in the round.
* If Ritson looks familiar, it may be because he played Justin, the object of Herr Lipp’s affections in The League of Gentlemen.
*** Interestingly, Henry Hitchings in his review quotes Cavell’s “affectation verg[ing] on effeminacy”, this presumably being Hamilton’s own description. Update: Mr Hitchings has kindly confirmed this to be the case. Apparently the description concludes “…and can be very irritating.” Extraordinary.