Friday, June 10, 2011

Rope

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Alfred Hitchcock is one hell of a tough act to follow. With his iconic 1948 film Rope, the director was able to both bottle lightning with his ensemble cast, while also managing to etch a cinematic style into the annals of film history.

But if director Ian Sinclair is intimidated, he’s got a damn good poker face. Returning to Peter Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope’s End, and its original London setting, Sinclair and his production team have created an intimate parlour scene in the newly refurbished Bondi Pavilion, with dark furniture and art deco trimmings setting off a glossy white chest in the middle of the room. It is this chest that glistens ominously in the murky darkness of Rope’s startlingly brutal opening scene, where two shadowy figures dispatch a terrified third with the titular weapon. And as the newly minted murderers pant orgasmically over their prize, it's clear that there’s to be more than the suggestion of homoeroticism in Sinclair's production.


Syncopated match flares and frenetically puffed cigarettes reveal the two dapper youths: a maniacally hopped up Wyndham Brandon (Anthony Gee) and a more traditionally hysterical Charles ‘Granno’ Granillo (Anthony Gooley). Before the show, a jocular announcer has already warned the audience of Gee’s recent shoulder dislocation (later written in as a rowing mishap), so when the lights eventually do come up, one is only left to wonder how the injury has affected the power dynamics of the horrific preceding violence. But either way, the deed is done, young Ronald Kentley has been murdered – for the sheer thrill of it – and Brandon and Granno are expecting visitors in a mere moment.


Barely able to contain himself, Brandon greets his party with a Cheshire Cat grin. Granno is more content to hand out, and knock back, cocktails and cigarettes. The exhilaration of the kill fills the party – and the audience – with an ecstatic energy, and in a distinct tonal departure from Hitchcock, Sinclair and his ensemble play the opening act with a screwball comedic edge, which at times even borders on pantomime. The audience are quick to laugh along with the marvellous ensemble of Sabot (Peter Eyers), the effete French butler, flighty party girl Leila (Sarah Snook) and the eagerly ridiculous Kenneth (Gig Clarke). Adding an extra edge to proceedings are prize guests Sir Johnstone Kentley (Bob Baines) and Mrs Debenham (Elaine Hudson) – the recently murdered boy’s father and aunt – while Sinclair regular Josh Quong Tart plays Rupert Cadell, the unfortunate guest and mentor-figure who begins to suspect all is not well.


With two bombastically cued intervals and hence double the drinking opportunities, the boisterous opening night crowd is forgiving of the few onstage hiccoughs. Perhaps Gee’s shoulder threw everyone out a little, but while it’s evident that the production hasn’t quite reached muscle memory, the potential for greatness is also crystal clear. Gee commands his party with caustically clipped diction and a maniacal smile, which might appear forced if it wasn't so skilfully pathological. There’s more than a nod to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman in his performance and it builds to something quite striking indeed, while Gooley provides admirable support, matching pitch-perfect timing with an alarmingly realistic case of drunken sweats and swaying as Granno’s guilt eats him from the inside out.


As the only guest whose suspicions are aroused, Tart gives a powerfully nuanced performance as Rupert. Responsible for the play’s crucial tonal shift, Tart deftly develops Rupert from wry wit to incredulity, to horrified suspicion with a skill that will assuredly carry the audience along once he fully hits his stride.


So while Hitchock's spectre inevitably looms large over the production, Sinclair and his devilishly gleeful Brandon masterfully make their case: this is their party and they can murder if they want to.
 

4 Stars

Published in Time Out Sydney
Season: 1 June – 25 June 2011

Tues – Sat: 8pm

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