Have you ever encountered a classmate so stupid that you wanted to strangle them? So did Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo, the two main characters in TCDS’s latest production, Rope, a play that is part thriller, and part cautionary tale of what can happen when you take your philosophy readings too seriously.
The story, adapted from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, is about a real-life murder case that took place in Chicago in 1926. The two students (who, in the staged version, attend Oxford University) were said to be obsessed with Nietzsche and the philosophy of the Übermensch. In the words of director Marie Trotter, the characters become “fascinated by the idea of dominating a weaker human being, and so decide to do this through murder.” The murderers then proceed to celebrate their own cleverness by vainly throwing a dinner party for their friends over a large wooden chest, where the bloody remains of the victim are hidden.
The TCDS version of this gory tale captures the 1920’s schoolboy atmosphere perfectly. The play is chock-full of ritzy costume designs, static gramophone music, and a book-covered dining room set, which evokes a gothic, Brideshead Revisited-esque aesthetic.
Much of the story’s set-up relies on establishing the characters that are sharp and those that are vapid. Unfortunately, the vapid characters have a hard time standing out in the production, and aside from delivering a few funny lines here and there, largely fall to the background.
Instead, much of the tension comes from the interactions between the two murderers, Brandon and Granillo, played by Joanna Decc and Max Levy respectively. Decc especially, whose looming presence and slow mental deterioration — which occurs as her character begins to lose control of the situation — delivers meritoriously and constitutes much of the driving force behind both the plot and the performance. This deterioration is consciously reflected in the general state of the set, which grows increasingly turbulent as props are moved, shoved, and thrown out of place as the dinner party progresses — a factor that helps the audience see the transition from order to chaos.
The most outstanding performance, however, comes from Jonathan Dick, who plays Rupert Cadell. The most perceptive of the aforementioned ‘sharp’ characters, he is the only guest present who suspected there was something “queer” about the evening.
Cadell smoke, drank, and discussed philosophy at the same pace as the play’s ostentatious murderers, and Dick portrayed this expertly by maintaining the same conduct as his counterparts, while keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not he would show himself to be the leads’ moral superior.
Overall, the production is a valuable addition to TCDS’ season, as it no doubt gave many a young Trinity student — who may still be determining whether the philosophies they learn from the dusty tomes have any worth in our day-to-day lives — something to think about.
The trailer from Hitchcock’s Rope: