Rope - directed by Ben Maples
"The choice of Rope seemed unusual since this was not a Whodunnit but a Whydunnit, with the answer provided fairly quickly after the beginning of the play. Thereafter, there didn't seem anywhere to go. By setting this after WW2, unlike the original play, which was set in the decadent 1920s and possibly captured some of the zeitgeist around perceptions of class and moral superiority, the lessons of Fascism should have been sufficiently well-learned to make the premise of the play untenable in the 1950s (post war and pre abolition of hanging). Once we had been introduced to each of the characters, most of whom had no obvious influence on the development of Brandon's bizarre philosophy (Nietzsche was barely mentioned), it was a struggle to find sufficient motivation for Brandon's violent action. Jealousy or revenge for slights real or imagined, the usual motive forces for murder were not obvious. Alma Cadell's role as having a school days influence on Brandon was clearly significant but the dialogue between them was insufficiently fleshed out to allow us to apportion blame on Alma for Brandon's insouciant murderous tendency. The homoerotic hero worship of Brandon by Phillip, apparently stressed in earlier productions, was absent here, leaving us with little to ascribe to Phillip's blind loyalty other than lack of moral courage. What remained was an empty husk of a play stripped of much of its meaning, since at least half the characters had no role other than as unwitting bystanders in Brandon's weird game of chance.
This must have been unsatisfying for the actors, at least as much as it was for the audience. This was a great shame since the production began so well with the dramatic closure of the chest and later the discovery of the rope. However, thereafter the only tense moment surrounded Mrs Wilson's clearing of the dinner things and subsequently Mrs Cadell's confrontation. There could only have been two endings - they would get caught or they wouldn't. Neither would have been much of a surprise, so in dramatic terms we were not disappointed. However, since we had to wait a long time for an ending that didn't surprise us we were, nevertheless, disappointed. Having said that there were some very positive comments from audience members leaving the auditorium afterwards. Perhaps I am the one out of step.
In terms of constructive comments about the production there were some sightline issues, stage right, at times when many actors were clustered around the drinks trolley. The set itself was very well constructed but I wonder whether the intruding side wall could have been abandoned and the full width of the stage used more often to relieve congestion. The only moment when the wall was used was when Alma hid behind it. Perhaps a coat stand would have served. Sound effects were also unusual, with door bell and phone bell sounding very alike and the police siren perhaps too American."