I was very excited to see that the Almeida were doing a production of Rope as I remembered that I'd enjoyed the film version, but not much else about it (other than Hitchcock's famous filming gimmick.) Patrick Hamilton claimed his play was not based on the real-life Leopold and Loeb case but nobody seems to believe this. Inspired by a passage in Nietzsche, two students bring a young man round to their flat and murder him. Then they stow his body in a trunk and invite a group of friends (including the victim's father) to dinner, using the trunk as a table.
Roger Michell gives it a gripping production, helped by his following the script in having some scenes happen in very little light. The play doesn't open too promisingly, as Blake Ritson's Brandon has to go all Basil Exposition and spend the first ten minutes telling Granillo (Alex Waldmann) in some detail what they've just done and why. Which is especially clunky since, er, he was there, he helped do it. But once the guests start arriving we're up and running, with the performances nicely balancing comedy and tension. Henry Lloyd-Hughes (probably quite glad not to be playing a bully for a change, as in The Inbetweeeners and Punk Rock) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are dim, drunken Bright Young Things, Emma Dewhurst is hilarious as the almost-silent Mrs Debenham and Michael Elwyn injects some pathos as the father who doesn't yet know his son's dead. Bertie Carvel steals the show though as Rupert, the aesthete whose ridiculously contrived accent should get annoying but somehow doesn't. He has some of the best moments in the show, whether with his bitchy comments (my favourite being "I honour my father and my mother: Every year on my birthday I send them a letter of congratulation.") or when the bon mots are masking how shrewdly he's collecting clues and is on to what Brandon and Granillo have done.
I liked Mark Thompson's octagon-themed set design, although converting the Almeida to traverse staging has messed with the sightlines a bit - my seat was pretty central but I hardly saw Alex Waldmann 'cause his character spent most of the time cringing by the fire, and that was blocked by a pillar. Don't worry, it's set in the 1920s so it's not like he got his kit off and I missed anything. The setting also means he had his hair slicked back so it wasn't quite as Patty Bouvier as it can be at times. Anyway minor gripes aside this is a great night at the theatre. Perhaps best shown by the fact that, despite the Almeida's brave (and entirely right, in my opinion) decision to run the play for nearly 2 hours with no interval, it didn't feel anything like that long.
Rope by Patrick Hamilton is booking until the 6th of February at the Almeida Theatre.