Event review: Rope, by the Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association, performed at the Royal Russell School Theatre

By - Monday 20th February, 2017

Strong performances, occasional glitches and a real sense of danger from CODA

Photo by CODA, used with permission.

Why are all of Croydon’s best theatre spaces in schools? Coloma, Trinity, Royal Russell. What is the point of young people having access to such fantastic resources when once they become adults, they find that the only theatre in the borough is Surrey Youth’s Shoestring Theatre?

It’s due to a lack of decent local theatre space that CODA opted to perform its latest drama, Rope, by Patrick Hamilton, in the impressive (if not a little chilly) studio theatre space at Royal Russell School from Wednesday 15th to Saturday 18th February. Oh – and the company’s treasurer works for the school’s drama department. But will their play be ropey? The company has sourced some excellent costumes, authentic props and very grand furniture for their clever set, a flat in 1920s Mayfair, home to university students Charles Granillo and Wyndham Brandon.

The play begins as a episode of Columbo might, with these two characters having just performed the senseless murder of a fellow student, purely for the kicks of it. Not quite satiated by this crime, Brandon has planned a cocktail party, the guestlist for which includes their victim’s father. The ever reliable David Sanders takes this role, and evokes a heart-melting sadness in his final scenes. The hosts will invite their guests to dine off of a chest containing the corpse, and bask in how clever they both are when they are not found out for it.

A revelatory stage debut from Nee Morgan-Patch

Chris Ranaldi plays Brandon as cocksure, verging on cock-certain, but interspersed with moments of panic. Both nerves and the bottle get the better of his companion Granillo, played with a constant worry by Thom McGowan. Most of the guests are really fluff, and played with a sense of fun by the rest of the cast, with Anna Howard as a sparkly but simple Leila, Alfie Bird as a young and naïve Kenneth and a revelatory stage debut from Nee Morgan-Patch as the not-quite-with-it Mrs Debenham. It is the last guest to arrive, poet Rupert Cadell (played by Owen Moore) who smells a rat early on, and becomes determined to uncover their wrongdoing.

Rope is the kind of play in which the bits between the lines are often more important than what is being said, as a war of nerves is fought. To be honest there was rather too much acting, and not enough reacting, to really pull off a truly tense performance, with some actors allowing affected accents to get in the way of a totally convincing delivery.

Laughs in the right places and some engaging dramatic moments

Set on a stormy night, a trick was missed to not have the sound effect of the rain running throughout to create atmosphere. Then to have it start once one of the characters mentions the rain was a mistake, and sadly, due to a glitch or two, one could tell the track was looped. The spell was also sometimes broken by some very late lighting cues and a very visible stagehand taking a tray of drinks from Sabot the maid (a nicely put-upon performance from newcomer Lucy Pearce).

The play becomes a three hander once the party is over and Cadell returns to accuse the young murderers, with Moore wisely opting for a not altogether confident confrontation, bringing a sense of danger and realism to the situation. Granillo has long since cracked, with McGowan crumpling his character beside the give-away chest, as Brandon fights his losing battle to the last, with both Moore and Ranaldi relishing the play’s best dialogue.

All in all, Rope was a very pretty play with laughs in their right places and some engaging dramatic moments. Whether CODA returns to this space will be down to more suitable spaces presenting themselves, but for now, so long as they can convince bums to sit on these seats, it’s good to know that the company has the option.

Rob Preston

Rob Preston

Rob was a co-host on Croydon Radio's Encyclopaedia Croydonia, and hosts the popular bi-monthly tribute nights at The Oval Tavern on Oval Road. As a writer / photographer his work has been published in Doctor Who Magazine, Dreamwatch, Auton, Dog's Breakfast, Bulletin Your Head and SoHo Life & Technology Today. His short stories have been read at Tales of Croydonia at The Oval Tavern, and he is currently working on two anthologies of his own short stories, one crime, the other horror. He has written and directed seven plays at various Croydon venues, and survives today as a jobbing actor.

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