You might well already know the plot of Rope, a play by Patrick Hamilton and a celebrated Hitchcock film. Two sociopathic students, seeking the intellectual thrill of a "perfect murder", kill a man and hide his body in a packing chest – then for bonus giggles, use the chest as the table at a dinner party. The whole point of Rope is that the crate is ever-present, a constant and sinister reminder of the gory secret within. So this outdoor, walking-tour version of the story relies on an intriguing trick… putting the chest on wheels, and trundling it round the cobbled streets of the New Town.
I'm a sucker for wacky adaptations, and I wanted to love such a striking gimmick – but the truth is, it didn't quite work for me. The logistical issues are formidable, and I felt I was spending too much time just walking along the street behind a metal box on wheels. What's more, in this commendably bold rewrite of Hamilton's storyline, the cover story for taking a chest for a walk is a little on the weak side; it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more heightened, emphasising the jet-black humour underscoring the original play.
But the physical labour involved in shifting the trunk does neatly highlight the relationship between the two villains. The coolly collected Jonathan is very much there to "supervise", while his co-conspirator Conner works up a sweat, both from the effort of shoving and from the knowledge of what he's done. As more characters join the procession – a stereotypically gormless rugby player, the victim's unknowing sister, and an all-too-knowing upper-crust friend of the perpetrators – the plot begins to unravel, while Jonathan's callous motivations become ever scarier as we learn more and more about them.
A couple of scenes don't quite hit the mark – there's a segment in a pub basement which I think is meant to be psychologically taut, but to me just went on forever – but on the whole they do well in highlighting both the gravity and the dark comedy of the situation. Wisely, the production transitions to a far more sinister tone for the character-defining closing scenes, and it's here that Calum Grant as Jonathan begins to excel. Two consecutive showdowns involve some truly disturbing mood swings – and near the end, despite my familiarity with the original plot, I found myself entirely unsure which way the story would finally swerve.
Although they hail from Somerset, the Step In The Dark theatre company have done a fine job locating their story in Edinburgh, with clued-up references to local landmarks and a key role for local arthouse favourite the Cameo Cinema. So this is a well-thought-through and well-practised play, let down just a little by a couple of weaker scenes and a slightly impractical concept. Still, I'm glad I trundled along. If you've yet to embrace that special form of creative surrealism you only find at the Fringe, then this makes an excellent starter.