You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rope

Fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell's taut and well-acted production, "Rope."

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

“How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production.

Despite his denials, Hamilton’s 1929 play sprang from the Leopold and Loeb case. We immediately learn that devil-may-care Brandon (Blake Ritson) and Granillo (Alex Waldmann) — even more amoral versions of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon and Jack — have strangled an innocent young man.

According to their Nietzschean views, the murder is pure because, unsullied by motive, it allows a clarity and aristocracy of thought, placing them above conventional morality. The coup-de-grace is that, in real-time, they then serve tea on the wooden chest hiding the body to a group of friends, including the boy’s father. Will they pull off the perfect murder?

Hitchcock’s 1948 movie updated the action to the 1940s, which made it contemporary but removed the defining mood of post-WWI youthful hedonism, superbly caught by this production’s design team.

Mark Thompson’s in-the-round set and crisp costumes are fastidiously detailed, right down to the sleek presentation of Philip Arditti’s white-gloved butler. But they also serve as a sharp reminder that although the offstage music is jazz-age Charleston, the defining codes of behavior echo ramrod-backed Edwardian seriousness.

Wholly at ease with period accent, demeanor and manner, Ritson’s smilingly severe Brandon has the requisite lethal chill that convinces audiences he could control Waldmann as his more febrile and nervous friend Granillo.

The subtle exactitude of the performances is echoed in the supporting roles. Raglan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), who “hurdles hundreds of yards and that sort of thing” and is usually overplayed as a brainless athlete, is far more engaging for merely appearing out of his depth. And by back-pedaling the expected braying dimwit, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Leila becomes sweetly touching.

Michell’s direction of Bertie Carvel as Cadell, the poet who unravels the boys’ secret, also restores the moral ambivalence and gay subtext mostly quashed in the movie.

The last London revival went too far in the opposite direction, with an overexplicit nude opening sequence. But Michell keeps the homosexuality subtextual rather than textual. His first-rate cast pays the audience the compliment of allowing them to discover for themselves the nature of the relationships.

Thus a tiny reptilian gleam of pleasure lights up Carvel’s face as he suggests staying to watch the boys pack their suitcases. He is, after all, the man the murderers considered including in their secret. His tiny moment of lasciviousness nails his complicity and the production’s complexity.

Cadell declares his next volume of verse “promises to be not only the best thing I have ever written but the best thing I have ever read.” This is not a character inclined toward understatement, a tone Carvel boldly embraces. But the scale of his performance is held in check by its immense detail.

The withering sarcasm of his arch aestheticism is thrown into stark relief by the held sadness of his speech about melancholia. That emotional control is matched by a physical command over his war-wounded body. His reaction to the climactic opening of the chest is a shiver of revulsion that is all the more expressive for its almost simultaneous repression.

Exquisitely lit by Rick Fisher, often almost solely from flames darting forth from a fireplace, the production never forgets that this is a thriller. From sound designer John Leonard’s scary thunderclaps in an oppressive rainstorm to footsteps on a wood floor outside the room, the atmosphere is vivid enough to make the plot mechanism wholly convincing.

Michell’s knife-edge production makes the best possible case for the return of “Rope.”

Rope

Almeida Theater, London; 364 seats; £32 $52 top

Production: An Almeida Theater presentation, in association with Sonia Friedman Prods., of a play in one act by Patrick Hamilton. Directed by Roger Michell.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Mark Thompson; lighting, Rick Fisher; sound, John Leonard; production stage manager, Laura Flowers. Opened, reviewed Dec. 16, 2009. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

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

More Legit

  • School Girls, or the African Mean

    Off Broadway Review: 'School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play'

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • Escape to Margaritaville review

    Pre-Broadway Review: Jimmy Buffett Musical 'Escape to Margaritaville'

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • Kevin Spacey Sexual Assault

    Old Vic Theater Logs 20 Complaints About Kevin Spacey, Pledges to Improve Accountability

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • The Drama League Expands DirectorFest to

    The Drama League Expands DirectorFest

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • The Play That Goes Wrong

    'Come From Away,' 'Falsettos,' 'The Play That Goes Wrong' Join Ahmanson's Upcoming Season

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • Broadway sales Hello Dolly Anastasia Come

    'Come From Away,' Hit Broadway Musical, Being Made Into Feature Film

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

  • Stagecraft podcast Ayad Akhtar

    Stagecraft Podcast: Ayad Akhtar Talks 'Junk,' Pulitzers and Faith (Listen)

    “How fearfully interested in crime we all are tonight.” That knowing line not only amusingly sums up “Rope,” Patrick Hamilton’s celebrated study of motiveless murder, it offers a punning clue to the essence of any revival of the play: Fear. And fear of discovery welds audiences to Roger Michell’s taut and well-acted production. Despite his […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content