The essence of a good thriller is usually found in a totally plausible storyline, unquestionably believable characters and an air of mystery or suspense. The second play, in a series of three at the DevonshirePark, Talking Scarlet’s production of Rope by Patrick Hamilton sadly has none of these and, as a consequence, seems to miss the mark by a clear mile.
The 1948 film version by Alfred Hitchcock had many changes from the original stage play and it was those very changes that gave the film enough tension and suspense for it to instantly become a classic. By reverting back to the original script all the “wrongs” that Hitchcock removed, are replaced.
The set is a striking monochrome Art Deco styled living room although, as the first 10 minutes are performed in near darkness, it is a while before we get to see its full impact. As the curtain rises, we see two characters fumbling around in the dark and placing something in a large red hexagonal chest which is located in the centre of the room.
Those characters are Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, played by Samuel Clemens and Dominic Vulliamy, and they proceed to discuss how they have just killed, for fun, a fellow undergraduate. They also reveal that the boy’s father and a few of their friends are about to arrive for a party which will be held in this very room, with the chest doubling as a buffet table.
The problems that exist in this production may all seem minor, but added together, they prevented many in the audience from engaging with the production. Firstly, there are four main characters who are all supposed to be at university together – and yet their playing ages vary by well over 10 years.
Secondly, the storyline has more holes than a Swiss cheese and is, from the outset, barely believable and thirdly, the one, crucial piece of evidence – the only thing that might possible reveal the awful truth to the assembled guests – is so clearly on display that it would be more suited to a farce than a thriller.
The “dramatic” ending then produces enough ham to make Lady Gaga a new outfit with Ben Roddy, who performed extremely well in the opening play of the series, desperately trying to make the revelations by his character, Rupert Cadell, seem shocking while the two male leads offer the kind of theatrical poses not seen since the era of silent movies.
Thankfully, with a first act that is only 40 minutes long, and a second act only slightly longer, the brevity of the piece is its one saving grace.