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Rope, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Patrick Hamilton

Directed by John Fricker
Pros: Absolutely superb acting – you’d never want to see this play cast differently!
Cons: Needless break and clumsy sound effects.
Our Verdict: A very entertaining night out – even for die hard television fans – at a lovely theatre.
Courtesy of Mark Bowsher for OutFox Productions
Anyone who lives in London will be aware of Zone Prejudice. If you live in Zone 2, then Zone 3 is an uncivilized place. If you live in Zone 4, well then Zone 5 is countryside. For people who have always lived in London, the North/South divide is the Thames and Oxford Street is the Midlands. Having lived in just about every zone in London, I thought I was above this, but then I misjudged the trains and entirely missed the start time for Rope. Subsequently, I found my Tuesday night full of grumblings about ‘The South’.
I’m glad The South and I had the chance for a re-match, during which my opinion was utterly changed by the delights of the Brockley Jack. We give Off West End theatres a lot of lee-way when it comes to cold auditoriums, uncomfortable seats and trains going overhead which often make for an endearing experience. The Brockley Jack, however, is nearly on-par with those London theatres we call National Institutions, just a fraction smaller. Indeed I was mildly surprised that there were no ice-cream touts. Friendly and competent staff, a fully professional stage space and – oh my life – comfortable seating!
OutFox Productions seamlessly added to this tone with every stage item being perfectly suited to a Patrick Hamilton play. There was none of the ‘oh it’ll do’ attitude in presentation here, from the smallest props (including a clock, always showing the correct time) to well fitted costumes.
The subject matter is delightfully devilish: a murder mystery in reverse. We know who dunnit and where the body is, and rather than trying to expose the villain, we are left to guess which of the group will be the sleuth in disguise. For most of the show we are tied up in the delight of anticipation with characters appearing to the audience exactly as they seem – however this never gets so light as to be frivolous about human nature, and the final stages of the play do poke at questions of human morality.
I was a little disappointed that there was an interval. Whilst this is often an essential revenue generator for a theatre, the break in the action (with a minute second half) entirely broke the spell of the play. As a result, the end of the play felt abrupt and the serious dénouement set a new tone rather than lending poignancy and self-awareness in contrast to the light-hearted first ‘half’.
Despite this, the directorial decisions and sheer talent of every single actor created a wonderful comedic ensemble. None of the parts were overplayed, which is extremely easy to do in a Patrick Hamilton – Ana Luderowski gets a special mention in this regard as her character could be particularly prone to this. In a play where the words are so important, the entire cast did not neglect the humour which can be gained from pause, gesture, and glance. Or for that matter silence and darkness, two elements often feared and usually implemented badly. The result is a great balance between frenetic pace and deserved calm which John Fricker should take pride in.
The sound let the play down a bit. As is often the case with light, sound and design, if it’s good one rarely notices, but if it is slightly out of place it is irritating. The choice of sounds was always apt but their abrupt nature intruded rather than being a susurrus that set the scene. I almost enjoyed the ambitious sound-scape which started the play, but it wasn’t always clear what was being said. Much more or much less, in either direction, would have worked – but the play stood terrifically without it so I would err in favour of the latter.
Overall Rope is an utterly fantastic evening of pure entertainment which certainly justifies the effort of getting to the Brockley Jack worthwhile, even when I had to do it twice.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Rope runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 27th April 2013.
Box Office: 0844 847 2454 or online at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/

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