Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“I have committed passionless – motiveless – faultless – and clueless murder”

Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope has a special place in my heart for it was the 2010 Almeida production that properly introduced me to the marvel that is Bertie Carvel and Roger Michell taking that theatre into the round – when such things were still a novelty to me – was a properly memorable experience. So the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch had a job to do and Douglas Rintoul’s expertly-tooled revival has much to commend it.

The story centres on the nefarious antics of two idly rich Oxford undergrads who murder a fellow student just for the hell of it, in pursuit of some Nietzschean ideal. And not just that, they host a dinner party hours after they committed the deed and stuff the corpse into a chest which they then use as a dinner table, even going so far as to invite the victim’s mother. Darkly comic throughout, the play soon winds up into something of a proper thriller as the pair walk a very dangerous line. Continue reading “Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

“What does one do with the pickled walnut?”

 The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead”

Review: Gaslight, Royal and Derngate

“Suddenly, I’m beginning not to trust my memory at all“

I do like me some Tara Fitzgerald and reckon she’s probably under-rated both in my personal pantheon of favourite actresses and by the industry at large. So I was more than happy to get the train back up to Northampton (after last month’s Brave New World) to see her take the lead in a new revival of Gaslight, despite not having enjoyed the play the one time I previously saw it in Salisbury. And fickle as I am, I enjoyed it much more here, Lucy Bailey’s production rising to the challenges of the somewhat hokey writing.

For I don’t think anyone could truly claim that Patrick Hamilton’s play is particularly well-written or that well-constructed, its almost farcical nature needs careful treatment in this more sceptical day and age but that is exactly what it gets here. Fitzgerald plays Bella Manningham, a Victorian wife convinced that she is losing her mind as did her mother, and with her husband often away on business, the fears that her house is haunted grow near-insurmountable. But are they real or is something more cruelly manipulative afoot? Continue reading “Review: Gaslight, Royal and Derngate”

Review: Gaslight, Salisbury Playhouse

“Every night, I find myself waiting for something” 

Fans of overwrought cod-Victorian melodrama are definitely in for a treat at the Salisbury Playhouse, though I have to say Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight sadly fired up no sparks for me. Perhaps our taste in thrillers has become too sophisticated for such less complicated pleasures as these but the writing is clunky beyond belief, depressingly predictable from the off, and not helped by a production that tries to find a solution in prolonging the agony.

Hamilton sets his story in the household of the Manninghams, where he is a moustache-twirling, cackling fiend and she is a near-hysterical waif of a thing firmly under his thumb, leaving us in no doubt as to what’s afoot when the question is raised of whether she is losing her sanity or some more nefarious plan is in action. On and on it goes as their staff are drawn into the narrative along with an inquisitive detective but there’s so little to their parts, barely a hint of the characterisation that would lift the majority of the play from just being functional.  Continue reading “Review: Gaslight, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A

“People argue about the queerest things nowadays”

Perhaps an odd choice for a festive show, Rope at the Almeida Theatre is a dark tale of murder, abusive relationships and a dinner party (which I guess is what Christmas is about for some people…) Two Oxford students, Brandon and Granillo murder a third for the existential thrill of committing the ‘perfect murder’, they then invite people, including the dead boy’s father, round for supper, which is served on the chest where the body is stashed. Only one guest begins to suspect something is amiss, Rupert Cadell, a WWI veteran now a world-weary Nietzschean and over the course of the evening, the men try to argue the case for their intellectual superiority and play the dangerous game of trying to get away with murder.

The most arresting thing about this production upon entering the theatre is that it is presented in the round. This is a first for the Almeida and it is highly effective. It gives the real sense of being in the room with the protagonists and also has the visually pleasing effect of placing the chest in the centre of the action, both physically and metaphorically. This worked beautifully in the scenes which had several of the characters on stage, but I felt that when there was just two or three of them, more could have been done to utilise this format: the final face-off scene in particular was very static and played as if on a normal stage. This worked fine for us in our central seats but people to the side would have just seen the back of one or other of the main characters for the final 20 minutes of the play.

Continue reading “Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A”