Venue: Drama Barn
Runs: Friday 26 to Sunday 28 February
As a piece of theatre, and as a true story, Rope does not lend itself to cheerful thinking. The play is based on the somewhat real case of Loeb and Leopold, two thrill-seeking wealthy students with a superiority complex gleaned from the pages of academia, who needlessly murder an innocent with the belief that they will remain undiscovered. We meet their fictional counterparts, Brandon and Granillo, as they begin their own descent into something that they cannot take back. Stuffing the corpse of their victim into a chest, they have their butler prepare a dinner party for a host of distinguished guests, which is to be served on the chest in which the body is stored. As the night progresses, the tense and bizarre nature of the two intellectuals’ hosting leads to rising suspicions among the guests invited to unwittingly satisfy their egos.
While clearly intended to be a performance that relies on the entire dinner party cast to pull off, Justin Stathers seemed particularly strong in his role as Wyndham Brandon, the dominating partner in the criminal duo. Without it, Rope may have been somewhat unbelievable; he pulled off the part of an upper class figure of fear well. His control over accomplice Charles Granillo seemed convincing enough, and towards the end Stathers demonstrated plenty of depth to Brandon. The other cast members did nicely overall, and while some missed lines were obvious, they did recover well enough to ensure it never became an enormous problem. When getting it right they covered each role adequately, which helped to develop a level of familiarity over the course of the play.
The setting feels somewhat claustrophobic, but it works well for theatre aimed at making the audience uneasy and tense. Rope obviously has more constraints in budget and sheer man time than other performances such as Rent, but this doesn’t seem to hold back the show in any meaningful way. Look at the set, it seems the part; an upper class abode for young intellectuals in an era of decadence. Good control over the lighting ensured that the mood clearly intended could be managed.
Delivering a good performance of what is now a relatively classic story, Rope should satisfy most audiences. The problems that it had were mostly a lack of polish, which will presumably come throughout the run as the actors get used to the play in its entirety on the stage. While not likely to surprise an audience with the plot, particularly once they find their footing in the plot and characters, it is an interesting exploration of ugly minded people displaying the reality that they have been infected with a sense of superiority that they do not have the responsibility and maturity to keep in check.