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Rope review at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – ‘strongly performed’

James Sutton and George Kemp in Rope at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch James Sutton and George Kemp in Rope at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
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Patrick Hamilton’s first play Rope may be less familiar to many than Gaslight but it’s more tautly constructed, shifting gears from comedy to thriller with surprising alacrity.

Inspired by the real-life story of Leopold and Loeb, it sees two wealthy undergraduates attempt to commit the perfect, motiveless murder and get away with it.

It’s a curious comedy thriller that wilfully crosses the boundaries of decency – it’s surprising it wasn’t banned by the Lord Chamberlain in 1929 when it was originally staged.

Rope remains an engrossing black comedy, highlighting the pitfalls of intellectual vanity and the dangers of the superman complex. This production, assertively directed by Queen’s Theatre’s artistic director Douglas Rintoul marks a slight shift in gear to much darker material than in his previous, fruitful collaborations with the New Wolsey, Ipswich.

Ruari Murchison’s set design is an intelligent fusion of black-box austerity and astute period features, all complemented by Mark Dymock’s film noir-style lighting.

Despite some dated references, a heightened sense of reality evolves credibly within the frame of the play. The performances play a large part in this. George Kemp nails the cool, psychotic Brandon with icy precision. James Sutton does strong work as Brandon’s uneasy collaborator Charles Granillo.

Standing in their way is Sam Jenkins-Shaw’s acerbic ex-serviceman Rupert Cadell. Jenkins-Shaw underscores the fragility of the character, broken by the atrocities of war, with a quavering moral compass that hints at a much greater danger on the horizon.

Douglas Rintoul: ‘A theatre’s atmosphere always comes from the top’

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Smartly presented and strongly performed revival of Patrick Hamilton’s thriller