Who doesn’t love a good mystery, a tantalizing whodunnit?
It’s been a long time since the Shaw Festival Theatre featured a thriller, and Patrick Hamilton’s Rope offers a tightly-spun departure from the norm of the genre — there is no mystery about who did what, or why.
The Royal George Theatre audience is given the disturbing details of a recent murder in the opening scene. Two young men, at home on a short break from Oxford, have killed a fellow student — just because they believe they can, and get away with it. They have nothing against the man whose life they have taken. The murder was planned as a lark, and an opportunity to prove the perpetrators’ intellectual superiority. At least that’s the case for the ringleader of the two, Wyndham Brandon (Kelly Wong) who is self-assured to the point of being arrogant, smug, and not terribly likeable. His friend — very close friend — Charles Granillo (Travis Seetoo), is less enthusiastic, terrified of being found out, and seems to be following his partner’s instructions more out of a sense of loyalty than a desire to take another’s life.
The suspense, the edge-of-your-seat component, is whether they will be caught. The tension is heightened by the presence of a chest in the middle of their parlour, into which they have temporarily stuffed the body, which they plan to take it with them when they return to Oxford later that evening.
But first, in a psychological twist that hints at the level of Brandon’s depravity, he invites a small group of acquaintances to an informal dinner party, including the dead man’s father and aunt. He then instructs the maid, played by Élodie Gillett, to serve dinner on the coffin-shaped chest, an interesting piece of furniture that becomes a conversation piece amongst the guests.
The young man’s father, Sir Johnstone Kentley (Peter Millard), and his sister, Mrs. Debenham (Patty Jamieson), are there for the shock value. The guests also include Kenneth Raglan (Kyle Golemba) and Leila Arden (Alexis Gordon), whose purpose seems to be to present comedy relief for poking fun at high society.
Key to the outcome of the mystery is Rupert Cadell (Michael Therriault), whose history, and philosophical leanings, have unbeknown to him helped inspire the murder — Brandon had considered and dismissed the idea of inviting him to participate.
The set is simple, yet designed to help create the suspense — a door and stairway are mostly unseen, but allow for the dinner guests to leave the parlour and return. Their comings and goings, as directed by Jani Lauzon, leave the audience anticipating what the guests may have seen and heard, what they make of the chest, and whether its contents will be revealed.
The parlour lighting, and a thunderstorm raging outside, create an atmosphere worthy of Hitchcock, whose film version added to the play’s renown.
The play, including an intermission, runs just long enough for the tension to build to a conclusion that will be satisfying to some, but not all. Do you want the young men caught, to wipe away the arrogance and immorality of their criminal actions, or do you hope they, being young and very foolish, get away with murder and escape prosecution?
It takes just two hours to find out. It also leaves much to ponder and discuss upon leaving the theatre and walking to the car, thankful artistic director Tim Carroll and all involved in the production have presented us the options with this season’s choice of Rope, on stage until Oct. 12.
For more information and tickets visit Shawfest.com.