Shaw Festival review: Rope gets a tight, tense production

ROPE by Patrick Hamilton (Shaw Festival). At the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs to October 12. $33.90-$149.16. shawfest.com. Rating: NNNPatrick.


ROPE by Patrick Hamilton (Shaw Festival). At the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs to October 12. $33.90-$149.16. shawfest.com. Rating: NNN

Patrick Hamiltons Rope marks the return of murder mysteries to the Shaw Festivals stages. Not that theres any mystery about whodunnit in this case. Best known from Alfred Hitchcocks film version, the play tells us quickly who the murderers are its suspense and psychological complexity come from why theyve killed and whether they will be caught.

Its 1929 and were in the Mayfair parlour of students Wyndham Brandon (Kelly Wong) and Charles Granillo (Travis Seetoo). After killing a fellow undergrad and storing his body in a chest, the two who are obviously a couple are about to have a casual little dinner party before driving back to Oxford that night.

On their guest list are Rupert Cadell (Michael Therriault), a poet and war veteran whose Nietzschean philosophy has unwittingly inspired the pairs actions vapid but pretty society folks Kenneth Raglan (Kyle Golemba) and Leila Arden (Alexis Gordon) and Sir Johnstone Kentley (Peter Millard) and Mrs. Debenham (Patty Jamieson), who just happen to be the murdered students parents.

Wyndham has nominally invited the older couple to look at some books, but what he really wants is to savour the sight of them unknowingly dining a metre or two from their sons corpse. In a gruesome touch, hes instructed the maid (Elodie Gillett) to leave food, buffet style, on top of the chest in which the body has been stuffed.

Although the opening moments are disorienting, director Jani Lauzon has lots of fun both with the genre and with Hamiltons nasty little script.

A fine actor herself, she gets terrific performances from her cast. Golemba and Gordons frivolous flirting provides an amusing counterpoint to the tense murder plot. And Seetoo elicits pity as his weak Charles gets drunker and therefore less careful.

Wong creates a chillingly amoral Wyndham, cracks eventually appearing on his smug surface as the night goes on.

But its Therriault who delivers the shows most memorable performance. Full of Wildean wit and seen-it-all ennui, he speaks his bons mots with icy loathing for everyone around him, even himself. Watching him gradually realize the implications of his philosophy is as intriguing as the murder plot itself.

Joanna Yus realistic set includes a door to a hallway where we can sort of glimpse things (or through which characters can eavesdrop), and Louise Guinands lighting design and John Gzowskis soundscape, complete with lightning and thunder, help ratchet up the tension.

When it was revived a decade ago at Londons Almeida Theatre, the show ran without an intermission. I wish this production had gone straight through as well, so as not to interrupt the carefully crafted suspense.

@glennsumi

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