The Macmillan Room in the Oxford Union with its plasterwork, barrel-vault ceiling and neo-Gothic fireplace makes a suitable and fun setting for Patrick Hamilton’s Rope from 1929, in that both space and play have their uneasy being somewhere between cosiness and creepiness.
The crime central to this thriller-cum-morality play, not a whodunnit but a whydunnit, is done and dusted by curtain-up and the two villains are displayed to us like mannequins in a horror shop window: the prime mover Brandon (Joe Prospero, stiff with icy bravado) and his sidekick Granillo (Jonathan Purkiss, quavering with mounting panic). We then settle back for insights into the relationship between criminals and victim and of course for their motives. A party of guests specially invited to share a little danse macabre arrives to chat and joust a little, and we wait... and wait and wait.
But alas, by now the early tension has drained away and even this short running time (90 mins and no interval) comes to seems drawn-out. So when references to Joseph Conrad (and the thoughts of Eng. Lit. types will surely dart to his Heart of Darkness) and Nietzche’s theories of man and superman are trotted out towards the end, it’s all a bit late and the glue holding together the different elements has by now become brittle and cracked.
This is an interesting and unfashionable choice of material by Stone Circle Productions. Director Susanna Quirke has worked hard to get these performances from her principals, especially squeezed into this confined space. Jared Fortune has the tough role of Rupert Cadell. This louche egoist transmutes (perhaps a shade implausibly) into the stern voice of Conradian morality, a sort of dishevelled Inspector Goole from the JB Priestley play, and Mr Fortune – despite haircut and stubble of a down-at-heel Richard Branson or Russian football oligarch rather than a 1920s bohemian - does nobly.
These principals were nicely supported by the naive Raglan, not far short of a silly ass (Alex Stutt), Sir Johnstone (Aleks Cvetkovic with a voice like a pound of plums), and Miss Arden (Constance Greenfield, excellent in tone and movement and sporting a perfect period hairdo).