THEATRE Rope Salisbury Playhouse

The kinkily brutal, homoerotic subtext of Patrick Hamilton's Rope was yanked up with an icy elegance and explicitness in Keith Baxter's recent Chichester/ West End revival of this play. The pair of moneyed, snooty Oxford undergrads, who kidnap and kill a fellow student in a heartless stunt designed to prove their Nietzschean superiority to the mass of mankind, were seen at the start in a naked tableau with their victim. Later, when this couple thought they had got rid of all the guests at their grizzly supper party, they celebrated the release of tension with a voracious striptease and mock strangulation game of their own. Interpolated radio bulletins (the play had been brought forward two years to 1931), implicitly linked their behaviour to the rise of international Fascism.

Critics who didn't like this staging complained that it would "delight homophobes" and that "in the wake of the James Bulger case, killing for kicks seems an obscene basis for what even Hamilton admitted was no more than a night of entertainment. Rope remains the theatrical equivalent of a video nasty." Gareth Armstrong's very enjoyable new production at the beautifully refurbished and revitalised Salisbury Playhouse confirms that the second of these charges is absurd.

His staging also emphasises, if less determinedly, the erotic current between the two murderers; for Geoffrey Abbott's tall, conceited Brandon and Tam Williams's jittery Granillo, getting off on one another and getting off on the high-risk conspiratorial situation seem, creepily, to amount to much the same thing. The immaculate living room set is dominated by a Leonardo drawing of a muscly male nude in back view, and at the end, when the pair are exposed, it comes alive, turns round and would have quite a tale to tell, no doubt, if given the time.

As Armstrong's production recognises, the character who transforms Rope from a smirking amoral shocker to a work of some ethical depth is also the figure who enthuses it with flamboyant theatrical vigour. To play Rupert Cadell, you need an actor who can do a comic star turn at the same time as showing you a man who is gradually shocked out of his dandy cynicism into normal moral outrage. To trace the journey from witty, philosophical impassivity to action, you need a performer who could play both a Wildean aesthete and Hamlet.

Dominating the proceedings with a wonderful rangy, negligent charisma, Jasper Britton's sardonic Rupert would be equally at home in a drawing room or on the Jacobean stage. He may not capture quite as well as Anthony Head did the fact that Rupert is half in love with Brandon, which gives a cruel, counter-tow to his flooding realisation that this youth is a monster. But all the other elements in the character's make-up are vividly there. Giving satiric, squiffy emphasis to the limp he sustained in the First World War as he repeatedly lunges for the whisky bottle, Britton's Rupert lets you see how that conflict wounded him emotionally and morally as well. Society recoils from the murder of individuals but sanctions the wholesale slaughter of a nation's youth; with a logic he now realises was false, Rupert has reacted to this hypocrisy by making light of individual life. The pain, shame and courage of this recognition would get rather shorter shrift, dramatically, if Rope were indeed the "theatrical equivalent of a video nasty".

To 8 Feb. Booking: 01722 320333

Paul Taylor

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test