Susan Elkin | 30 Oct 2022 23:39pm
Two young men, intelligent, educated and in a relationship, have killed a teenager and hidden his body in a wooden chest in their London sitting room – which forms the setting for the whole of Patrick Hamilton’s 1928 play. He was – fairly obviously – inspired and intrigued by the famous case (1924) of Leopold and Loeb in Chicago. Is it possible to commit an intellectually-driven murder and get away with it? And what is, or should be, the role of morality in life?
This version, directed by Rob Ayling, resets the play in the 1960s. It makes it feel less dated and Heather Collier excels as an empty-headed, white-booted, glitteringly attractive “dolly bird” in a wonderful Quant-ish dress. The period details are good too: table lighter, silver cigarette cases, a single Habitat chair, scarlet phone. It also means that the central gay relationship can be more overt, given the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. On the other hand it also throws up narrative oddities. Why, for instance, does Rupert (Srijit Bhaumick), still quite young, talk of personally murdering people in the first world war but not mention the second? And ultimately the murderers are terrified of hanging (the clue is in the play’s title) but the death penalty was suspended in the UK in 1965 and finally abolished in 1969 so, irrespective of their cold blooded, amoral crime, they wouldn’t have been executed.
But I’m nitpicking. This production is actually a fine evening’s theatre made memorable by high quality, beautifully directed acting from a cast of seven.
Charlie Weavers-Wright as Granillo, the less dominant half of the central couple, is jaw-droppingly good. His character is fraught with doubts, fears and regrets and Weavers-Wright communicates this continually. He finds jumpy nervousness in his character’s manner even when he’s trying to pull himself together, assisted by whisky. At one point he faces silently away from the others in a corner of the playing space thinking, listening and telling the audience what he’s thinking with his face and body language. And he weeps silently (and sometimes loudly) for a long stretch at the end. It’s a masterly and unforgettable performance. I Googled him on the way home and, as far as I can gather, this astonishing young actor has no training apart from A Level Theatre Studies, very little experience and no agent. I hope fervently that someone important sees him in action in this show and takes him on so that we see lots of his work in the near future.
There is also a chillingly powerful performance from Sami Awni as Granillo’s calm, calculating, but also violently unpredictable partner. And Bhaumick convinces as the voice of reason and morality. LT Hewitt provides humour to offset the darkness of this play by predictably falling in love with Leila and his is another enjoyable performance.
Patrick Hamilton seems to be ubiquitous just now. I’m seeing Mark Farrelly’s one man play about Hamilton next month and I’ve signed up for a study day in Brighton next spring based on Hamilton’s novel West Pier. And I recently read his novel Hangover Square. There’s a theme in all this: hard drinking. There’s awful lot of whisky in Rope and you’re left marvelling that they really were planning to drive the chest and the body to Oxford at the end of the evening. Oh those careless days. But again – there’s a narrative flaw because the landmark Road Safety Act which set specific limits for the first time became law in 1967. It changed driving habits almost overnight. Presumably back in 1928 no one gave it a thought.