Production Notes / Anthony Head in Rope: Keith Baxter, the director of Rope, on how to make a thriller thrilling

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The Independent Culture
I TOTALLY disregarded Hitchcock's film, which I always thought was lousy, with no sense of suspense at all. He used these long takes and James Stewart complained that he spent all his time rehearsing the camera, not the text or the actors.

And it had nothing to do with Patrick Hamilton's play. Hitchcock rode a tawdry bandwagon over Hamilton's coat-tails. Hamilton always denied that he'd based the play on the Leopold and Loeb case, it was just a coincidence that there were similarities. In the film the two young men bludgeon to death a young child selected at random, whereas in the play the murderers strangle a strong young man they have chosen as their victim.

I've acted in thrillers like Sleuth and Corpse. I've always found that the best directors started out as actors. Actors have to practise their craft eight times a week and unless they're idiots they must absorb the skills.

The play is amazingly well-written. As far as the direction is concerned, it's all to do with pacing and lighting, and the design plays an enormous part. I have a wonderful set (by Simon Higlett) in which all the angles are askew because there's something wrong about the principal characters - they're excessively handsome, but corrupt.

When, as a director, one is given a piece of work to do - whether it's Hamlet or A Month in the Country or Rope - one's mind waits for some kind of spark. I knew that we had to see quite clearly what the boys have done at the beginning of the play. I was in Virgin Megastore and there was some extraordinary piano music playing - Graham Fitkin's Piano Circus - it's modern but has a very disciplined series of dark, resonant chords played on six pianos. As soon as I heard it, the whole production fell into place: dark, beautiful and ominous; a study of psychosis in a direct classical line from Richard III and Jacobean tragedy.

'Rope' is at Wyndham's Theatre, WC2 (071-867 1116)

Keith Baxter was talking to Clare Bayley

(Photograph omitted)

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