Carla van der Sluijs,
Rope was alight with tension. From its quiet beginning to the big reveal, suspense flooded the Barron stage. Patrick Hamilton’s intense 1920s thriller follows two Oxford students, Brandon and Granillo, who believe themselves to have committed the perfect, undiscoverable murder. To prove it, they stage a dinner party with the victim’s friends and family, who are completely unaware of his death. The killers are so keen to certify their deadly genius, they have even gone as far as to position a chest containing the grizzly remains in the centre of the room. Will their crime be discovered or will the pair crack under the pressure? Directors Daniel Jonusas and Molly Williams kept us guessing all along.
The play opened in near darkness with a dark blue lighting wash across the stage. Some greater variation in voices was needed considering the length that dialogue in this darkness lasted for, but at the same time a chilling atmosphere was quickly established by this bold technical choice. Another interesting staging technique was the chalkboard effect backdrop with an upper class living room scene drawn in pastel colours. A strong attention to detail had gone into creating a cluttered living space around it which looked realistic and ‘lived in’. In short, the stage was set for some serious drama.
All performances of the production were incredibly strong and there was no weak link. The murderous pair of Granillo, played by Konstantin Wertelecki, and Brandon, played by Edward Polsue, worked brilliantly together and completely contrasted each other as Granillo’s nerves got the better of him. Daniel Jonusas (doing a ‘Hitchcock’ as a director who appeared in his own production) was a wonderfully smooth Rupert Cadell who became increasingly menacing as his character began to deduce the secrets of the chest. Sarah Crawford brought an excellent youthful and naïve gaiety in her role as Leila Arden, which was combined with good humour from Toby Poole as her desperately hopeful suitor. In fact, moments of comedy throughout the play successfully lightened the mood without detracting from the suspense. This perfect equilibrium achieved between laughter and tension was one of the main strengths of the production.
Rope featured very few flaws. The largest criticism I have would be diction. This was for the most part not a problem, but occasionally lines went unheard. It was unfortunately not helped by the overpowering sound effects at certain points of the production. I loved the attention to detail with these and I could see what the directors were cleverly aiming for, with the rain building as the pressure on Granillo and Brandon grew. However, the actors’ volumes needed to increase with the background noise. In addition, Jonusas’ costume could possibly have benefited from deeper pockets, as his concealed pistol fell to the floor with a clatter that somewhat gave his game away!
Overall, Rope was simply outstanding. An array of talented actors who were all fully immersed in their roles really brought the stage to life and meant we were completely gripped with the tension of whether or not the ‘Pandora’s Box’ in the centre of the stage would be opened. To see such bold directorial choices in a Freshers play is extremely exciting and I really hope that Jonusas and Williams will offer more of their creativity to the East Coast West End soon.
Carla van der Sluijs
Photos kindly provided by Daniel Jonusas