Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – until 3 March 2018
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 have 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.
George Kemp is marvellously malevolent as Wyndham Brandon, the amoral mastermind behind the scheme and serves as a reminder (if needed) that toxic masculinity sure ain’t a new concept. And James Sutton (a theatre debut for the former Hollyoaks star) partners well with him as accomplice Charles Granillo, far less sure about the lengths to which they are going to amuse themselves.
Real standout work comes from Sam Jenkins-Shaw though as one of their guests, a haunted ex-serviceman whose intellectual rigour acts as a spur for Brandon’s gameplaying even as it nudges him closer to being found out.
Hamilton’s moralising may come across as a little dated, preachy even, but as time ticks away on Ruari Murchison’s elegant set and under Mark Dymock’s hugely evocative lighting, the tightly wound coils of this expertly constructed thriller remain as poised as ever.