Friday, October 31, 2014

Rope presented by the Fletcher Players in Cambridge

Laminated marketing in the UK.
One of the sights that kept popping up while I visited Cambridge, UK was the countless posters covering the iron wrought fences, advertising theatre productions, music performances, Remembrance Day services, Singing and Dancing Lessons. They were everywhere and they were even laminated to protect them from the weather - brilliant!

This is Cambridge, after all, home of one of the world's oldest and most prestigious universities. So naturally, they are quite brilliant here.

A particular poster caught my eye – the bright red one for the Fletcher Players' production of Rope by Patrick Hamilton. The simplicity of the play’s title struck me, as did the tag line that it inspired a Hitchcock film adaptation. It had a sense of mystery and intrigue and it seemed like an ideal way to spend an a pre-Halloween evening at the Corpus Christi College Playroom.

Rope by Patrick Hamilton
It sure was.

£6 a ticket was a small price to pay for a solid, engaging performance by the Fletcher Players. The play's plot is straightforward - two Oxford students (in keeping with the intense Oxford/Cambridge rivalry) murder one of their classmates, stash the body in a traveling chest and then host a dinner party. But as with most psychological thrillers, it’s not what happens that’s most interesting to watch; it’s uncovering the answers to the questions of how and why that truly hold our attention.

The production was well-cast by director Olivia Stamp, considering the challenges of casting some prominently middle-aged characters from a pool of young acting talent. I was at first caught off guard by the casting of the young-looking Pete Skidmore as Sir Johnstone Kentley, a gentleman with a 20 year-old son. But Skidmore gave a very thoughtful and dignified performance that reflected the character’s age through effective vocal and physical mannerisms.

Corpus Christi College Playroom
Ben Walsh, who played Rupert Cadell, was exceptionally well-cast as the main antagonist, an interesting character whose led a unusual life. Walsh delivered a strong, nuanced and calculating performance of someone who you just can’t quite put your finger on - if he friend or foe? One criticism is that Walsh was pushing himself quite hard vocally and should be careful to use enough breath support so his voice doesn’t give out completely by the play’s end.

The lead actors, Oliver Mosley and Alasdair Mcnab had compelling chemistry opposite each other as the scholarly murderers, Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, respectively. The supporting actors, particularly Eleanor Colville as Leila Arden and Kyle Turakhia as Kenneth Raglan, portrayed the right amount of innocence and humor that their characters were to bring to the party, which as Brandon explains, are precisely his reasons for inviting them to their sick-intentioned affair.

The late 1920's era was well captured in the respective set and costume designs and the stormy soundtrack fed the growing tension and sense of foreboding and confrontation that underscores the party atmosphere. The pacing in some of the philosophical monologues could use a few tweaks but overall, Rope delivers a solid performance of a dark, sinister script by a very capable ensemble.

There’s a lot of talent and intelligence in this university town and judging by the sheer variety of laminated posters, there’s a lot of opportunity to take it all in. There are still two more chances to see Rope at the Corpus Christi College Playroom before it closes on November 1st, so get your fix of Halloween murder and mayhem by checking out this fine production.

For ticket info, check out: 

These upcoming productions out of the Corpus Christi College Playroom are also worth checking out:

The Laramie Project - Drama
Nov. 4 - 8

Jolly Good - Comedy
Nov. 10

Proof - Drama
Nov. 18 - 22

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