Top positive review
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A cruel and brilliant play with some with well observed social comedy
on 3 March 2016
“Rope” is the 1929 play which made Patrick Hamilton’s name and, along with another play, Gas Light, earned him the wealth with which he slowly drank himself to death over the next few decades.
Hamilton always denied that the famous Leopold and Loeb case in America in 1924 in which two teenagers from prominent Chicago families committed an apparently motiveless murder on a 14-year-old boy, was the inspiration for Rope. The similarities between his play, and the Leopold and Loeb case, make his claim lack credibility.
Patrick Hamilton’s Rope concerns two upper class Oxford students who, under the malign influence of Nietzsche and his theories of the Ubermensch, kill a fellow undergraduate for the “fun of the thing”. Wyndham Brandon persuades his weak minded friend, Charles Granillo, to assist him in the murder of Ronald Raglan, a harmless fellow undergraduate. They place the body in a wooden chest, and to add spice to their crime, invite some carefully chosen acquaintances, including the dead man's father, to a dinner party, the chest with its gruesome contents serving as the dinner table.
Almost 90 years on from its initial theatrical success, the play still packs a punch. Hamilton slowly and cleverly ratchets up the tension as the three lead characters react in a very different, but all in a consistently compelling, way to the drama. The tension is also combined with well observed social comedy. In short, it’s wonderful - and short.
By a happy coincidence, I also had the pleasure of listening to a BBC Radio version of the play straight after reading it. This version stars the late, great Alan Rickman playing Rupert Cadell (the role played by James Stewart in the Hitchcock film) as a camp, cold, intellectual aesthete, and a survivor of the trenches with a tin leg. It is he who gives this cruel and brilliant play the merest hint of decency and compassion. If you can access BBC iPlayer you can listen to the play on it until 22nd March 2016.