Monday, 18 April 2011

Rope at Almeida

This weekend I found out that it is possible to get lost on your way to a place you've frequently visited. All it takes is a dark evening and a closed road. And a little bit of stubbornness on behalf of a male driver. A husband, obviously.

We did eventually find our way to our destination through the winding, hilly lanes of Hampstead and were able to carry on with the weekend's activities. One of which was to see Rope at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

The play was by Patrick Hamilton, a popular and talented London novelist and playwright, writing in the 1920's and 30's. His work reflects the darker side of society, and specialises in 'the lives of the lost and lonely' (Nigel Jones in the Rope programme). He also wrote Gaslight, which The Old Vic staged with Rosamund Pike in the lead role in 2007. Both plays are highly atmospheric, using darkness and light to create a menacing air.

Rope is set in a 1920's London town house where two Oxford undergraduates commit a senseless murder without motive, 'for adventure'. They hope it'll be the perfect crime. Minutes after the deed is done, the pair host a dinner party, inviting along the murder victim's elderly Father and Aunt, as well as a couple of young hapless upper class twits, and an astute, intelligent poet. You may well have guessed that it is the poet who starts to suspect something is amiss with the evening.

But to me the play is about so much more than 'will they or won't they get away with it?'. It is a clever study in human behaviour: in pride, in vanity, philosophy and in morality. Is it wrong to take a life if a human life has no value? This play was written in the shadow of World War I, and performed amidst the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression when life did indeed seem cheap and meaningless. Frighteningly all this resonates highly with the current economic situation and the shocking loss of life in wars as well as natural disasters.

The cast of  Rope at the Almeida Theatre London. Photo John Haynes

The stage at Almeida was arranged in the middle of the theatre, with seats around. Think Shakespeare's Globe Theatre or The Roundhouse in London's Camden. This was a stroke of genius. It made the audience feel as if included in the party and in the macabre goings on, as well as affording great views for all and sundry. Such a democratic way to arrange a theatre production.

Blake Ritson and Alex Waldmann in Rope at the Almeida Theatre London. Photo John Haynes

I've left the best part of the play till last: the acting. I couldn't say who was the most talented, or the most believable character in the production. They were all brilliant. Blake Ritson (of BBC1's recent production of 'Emma') as the scheming, cold-blooded Wyndham Brandon (above sitting in chair) was chillingly charming, with a dangerous undertone of temperamental violence. His partner in crime, Alex Waldman as the affable Charles Granillo (behind chair above) portrayed beautifully the weakness of those of us easily led by a stronger character such as Brandon.

Bertie Carvel in Rope at the Almeida Theatre London. Photo John Haynes

But a special mention must go to the absolutely wonderful Bertie Carvel (above), who played the intelligent and ascorbic poet, Rupert Cadell, with an affected accent and wooden leg. He did it with such brilliance that I was incredulous when I noticed his painful limp had gone at the curtain call. For wearing the hairstyle that would have made Marie Antoinette proud he should also receive a medal.

(All pictures by John Haynes on

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