ROPE

Mon 18th – Sat 23rd February 2013

reviews

Robert Holtom

at 22:00 on 18th Feb 2013

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It’s just your average Oxford story; two students have decided to murder one of their peers, lock the body in a trunk, and invite various friends and family of the victim to an evening soiree. Cue smoked salmon sandwiches, claps of thunder, and atmospheric lighting.

All aspects of this theatrical production including acting, directing, production quality, sound effects and scenery combined to form an assemblage of suitable dramatic success. Joe Prospero and Jonathan Purkiss played our two murderous protagonists, swiftly realising that murder isn’t quite as simple as it seems. Prospero portrayed Wyndham Brandon as suitably arrogant and somewhat desperate for attention. Meanwhile, Purkiss skilfully demonstrated the gradual falling apart of Charles Granillo, Wyndham’s partner in crime. However, quite why he agreed to be part of the murder in the first place is unclear but it becomes rapidly apparent that he cannot stomach the consequences. Much of the script was played for laughs ensuring that when the two argued over the severity of the matter it came across as an angry couple bickering over some mundane domestic affair.

As for the other cast members, particular highlights included Constance Greenfield’s hilarious presentation of Leila Arden; an intellectually lacking young socialite with a shrill laugh and tendency to describe everything as ‘weird’. And Imogen West-Knights made the most of her few monosyllabic lines and severe looks as Mrs Debenham, the Aunt of the victim. The play was at its best when all the cast were on stage together. It was as if all the suspects of Cluedo had convened in the billiard room to joke about the demise of Dr Black. Parodies of the upper classes are always a winner in Oxford.

The decision to use one of the upper rooms of the Union for the staging of the play was inspired. The large fireplace home to some dying embers, the plush carpets, and the rustic lamps all set the scene of an otherwise innocent drawing room, save for the fact there was a huge trunk in the middle of the room with a dead body in it. It was also interesting to watch as the characters turned off and on the various lights, shifting the audience’s focus and heightening the tension.

My only concern was with the tone of the piece. It was hard not to laugh as clueless characters accused the protagonists of murder in between scoffing mouthfuls of cake, even going as far as saying, ‘there’s a dead body in this trunk isn’t there!?’.

However, as the play drew to its melodramatic finale, signified by a brilliantly directed and choreographed scene of chaos and violence, a ‘moral’ element was suddenly introduced. It was as if we suddenly had to take these hopeless, philosophical murderers seriously as they were berated by one of their peers. However, given the ironic times we live in, I am glad the predominant tone of the play was comic, even if it meant the dramatic finale fell somewhat flat. Nevertheless, this was a brilliant ensemble production and I hope it performs to full audiences for the rest of the week.

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Christine Foley

at 01:10 on 19th Feb 2013

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After collecting your tickets, you step through a draped curtain to find that the seating is aligned on either side of what appears to be a 1920s living room. The lighting consists merely of four lamps and immediately creates a sombre atmosphere. You have come to this evening party where things are, as the character Leila puts it “a bit peculiar.” The set works well, the floor is covered in carpeting and the tables, which give the stage its shape, are covered in books. The books also trail the floor and we soon find out that they will be the cover under which this ‘party’ will take place. A large chest, the focal point on the stage and of the play itself, sits centre-stage and is in clear view for every audience member. The lights dim, then completely extinguish and a character comes on stage. Action in the dark takes place twice during the performance. This could cause difficulty for the audience members were it not for the clever use of a window frame emitting a low light onto the stage. Another character comes on stage carrying a body. The body is placed in the chest. The action begins.

The characters who have appeared in the dark are Brandon, played by Joe Prospero and Granillo, played by Jonathon Purkiss. Prospero immediately assumes his Machiavellian nonchalance by tying his shoes whilst effortlessly discussing the murder he has just committed. His performance from start to finish is unfaltering. Prospero is continuously performing actions whilst on stage. This may come down to good directing from Suzanne Quirke but Prospero takes on the simple tasks of taking out glasses, pouring drinks and putting on lights, with such ease and casualness, that he builds Brandon’s character from the very first scene.

Purkiss starts off as a very strong Granillo character, seeping worry and innocence. This wavers a little at the start of the party, where he appears to be a little over confident in contrast to his earlier perturb. He soon gets back on track however, and retreats to his previous troubled state. His best performance is undoubtedly the last scene where he sits silently, shaking as Cadell uncovers the truth and even more so after he’s been injured and huddles on the floor moaning while Brandon and Cadell converse. Sabot, played by Luke Rollason, appears at this early stage and assumes the funny, comical role of butler. Rollason plays the awkward servant well and it would have been enjoyable to see him on stage a little more often.

As the party ensues, the rest of the cast are introduced. Quirke delivers them to us via the side entrance and each character creates an immediate presence when they appear. Kenneth, played by Alexander Strutt, is the first to arrive. Strutt is the perfect fit for this character. He produces his witty, naive lines with conviction, creating some mild comic relief in the play. Kentley, the character who has come to collect the books, is played by Alexsander Cvetkovic. Cvetkovic enters the stage assuming his elderly, yet robust persona.

He is followed by Mrs. Debenham, played by Imogen West-Knights. Knights plays the stand-offish, dull-witted Mrs. Debenham successfully, keeping the same morose face for the entire performance. Leila also enters at this point. She is played by Constance Greenfield. Greenfield has a very strong dramatic presence, a presence which is stronger in the first half of the play, but never slipping.

The last to join the stage is Cadell, played by Jared Fortune. As the play moves to darker and darker places, Fortune moves with it, bringing the audience with him. His strongest moment, and indeed one of the strongest in the play, is his poignant speech about murder.

The last scene has some high dramatic moments including a physical struggle between the actors. For me, the stand out performance was Prospero's Brandon.

It’s a difficult concept; murder for the sake of murder, but together with skillful directing and a spectacular cast, Rope packs a punch!

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