Although first performed in 1929, the premise of Rope reads like the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The dashing and ever-so-handsome Wyndham Brandon persuades his weaker minded room-mate to engage with him in a morbidly grotesque and sinister display. Their goal? The perfect murder, where the victim is not so much murdered as simply made to vanish.
And what is so grotesque about all this, I hear you wondering? Well, as Brandon so eloquently explains at the top of the play (just in case you had your head in the sand when you bought your tickets) the deed itself is not enough. No, our villain wants to delight in his superiority, our villain will host an evening dinner, yes, he will lock the poor dead soul in a chest and have the guests eat off it as a makeshift table; yes, our villain will invite the one man he considers his intellectual equal, the one man capable of uncovering the fiendish plot; but worse still, our villain will invite the victim’s father! Oh, the outrage! How dare he? An evening of passion and intrigue is at hand. We have here a right couple of charmers.
The Centenary Theatre Group under the direction of Judith Barbeler do their utmost to deliver the thrills and chills that one expects from such a play. Strong casting and performances, solid set design, good production values, and tidy direction all combine to give the play the best of all possible chances of succeeding. In particular I was impressed by both Peter Norton as Brandon, the villain, and Paul Careless as Rupert, “the one man capable of uncovering the fiendish plot”.
In many respects this was one of the most complete productions I’ve seen all year. Yet despite its many virtues, I sometimes felt as if I’d been caught in a theatre history class. “Look, kiddies, this is the way they used to do thrillers way back when.”
And this is the main problem with Rope. Although it was probably outrageous back in 1929, nowadays it’s well, a little tame. Intrigue indeed, but what does it have to say to Queenslanders living in 2005?
My finger is pointed squarely at the playwright, who seems to have carefully avoided all sense of passion in the characters. How dare he! Surely that is why we are always drawn to the darkened room, the majesty of passion in flux. Oh the outrage!
So my evening of passion and intrigue fell short and I remain a little disappointed. But even so, I think you should see this show. The Centenary Theatre Group have done a terrific job, and there is, after all, intrigue to be had.
Directed by Judith Barbeler
Playing until 13th August 2005: Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval