Knot taking our breath away



You might know the Old Fire Station as that modern-looking contemporary art gallery in Gloucester Green, where you can buy expensive postcards and designer mugs, or other such arty kitsch. Maybe you’re an upstanding member of the community who has helped out in the Old Fire Station Crisis Skylight centre on Broad Street. But past this, in the entrance to the old Corn Exchange, is the theatre. With seats assembled on three sides of the stage, it gives the impression of being in the round, and since the stage is not elevated, the whole performance of Rope was very immersive.

Rope was popularised by Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation. This performance, excellently directed by Rachel Johnson, was sold out on its first night. From the synopsis you might be able to understand why: “Autumn, 1929. Two wealthy and privileged Oxford undergraduates, heavily influenced by philosophical models of intellectual superiority, contrive to commit the perfect murder. The victim’s body is concealed in a chest in their Mayfair flat. A carefully selected party of guests, including the victim’s own father, is invited for dinner.” The people of Oxford seemed to warm to this concept.

The setting never changed; all the action took place in one living room, yet offstage seemed as present as on: characters were walking on and off stage constantly, seemingly from room to room, or calling out to each other from stage left and right. There was never a sense of stasis, so unease never dwindled, not even in the very beginning of the play. The evening could have lacked tension since it starts with the murder having been committed, but the discomfiting darkness, sustained throughout, prevented this. Ben Bateman (playing Charles Granillo) was very good as a flaky sidekick character, permanently on edge and snapping at his fellow murderer. His drunkenness and deterioration was convincing, coming to a pathetic end with him curled up on the floor.

The best character, however, was the cane-carrying, slick-haired and black-suited Rupert Cadell. This was a masterful performance by Nathan Grassi. His sardonic drawl was not only humorous but carried an edge that seemed almost violent. He appeared in contrast to the lead (Merlin Bateman as Wyndham Brandon), who seemed unfortunately awkward on stage; his voice was strained and he often spoke too quickly. It was not a particularly compelling performance, though it warmed up a little towards the end; perhaps explained by first night nerves.

I haven’t even mentioned Jenny Ross as the entertainingly vacuous Leila. It could have maybe benefitted from a little more zest and energy, perhaps. Overall, the play was well put together and contained some excellent individual performances.


PHOTO / Rhiannon Kitson


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