REVIEW: Griffonage Theatre in Rope, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm ***

Carly Bednar’s Leila Arden in rehearsal for Rope

GRIFFONAGE Theatre may well be a new name to you, rooted in a word that means “careless handwritinga crude or illegible scrawl”.

The York company has its roots in the University of York, where director Katie Leckey is studying for a Masters in theatre-making.

Already, the company with the mantra of “making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange” has staged Poe In The Pitch Black in the non-theatrical but very atmospheric Perky Peacock café, in the 14th century Barker Tower on North Street.

Rope, Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 thriller famous for Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking 1948 film version, marks Griffonage’s move into a formal theatre space, the black box of the John Cooper Studio at Theatre@41.

Set designer Alicia Oldbury keeps it as black as the humour and mood of the piece with its shadows of the rise of British fascism. On the walls are mirrors and picture frames left blank, to match the values of William Osbon’s weak-minded Charles Granillo and especially Nick Clark’s fly Wyndham Brandon treating lives as worthless.

Rope opens in the smart London home where Brandon and Granillo will host the weirdest of dinner parties. Not in the dining room, where the table is now buried under a heap of books left to Brandon to sell, but the drawing room where the maid, Sabot (Molly Raine), sets up the food and cutlery on a wooden chest.

In that chest, as we know from the opening scene in the dark, is the body of Granillo and Brandon’s fellow Oxford student, the sporty Ronald Kentley. This is no spoiler alert: Rope is not so much a whodunit or whydunit (disdain, pleasure, arrogance, contempt), but a case of will the smug, wealthy duo get away with their “perfect crime”?

Enter, at Brandon and Granillo’s calculated invitation: glamorous socialite but not bright Leila Arden (Carly Bednar, delightfully daffy performance; too-modern dress); awfully nice but a tad dim student – and Brandon’s former school fag – Kenneth Raglan (Peter Hopwood, dressed in black tie and a never-removed top hat,) and the Oscar Wilde of Brandon’s circuit, Rupert Cadell, a droll poet with a lame leg but tack-sharp mind (Griffonage co-artistic director Jack Mackay).

Completing the assortment of guests as eccentric as the meal’s random contents are Ronald’s esteemed, book-collector father Sir William Kentley (Liam Godfrey, as suitably stiff in his disposition as a book cover) and his taciturn sister Mrs Debenham (Frankie Hayes, as disapproving in manner as Lady Bracknell, but saying everything in a look rather than words).

A white door of an erratic nature, period furniture, a drinks trolley, a piano, all play their part, lighting is kept simple, and tension takes its time to turn to Hitchcockian horror, hushed arguments broken like glass by fevered shouts as the cigarettes pile up and the drinks click in.

The atmosphere is awkward, as it would be, lightened by the nervous chatter of Bednar’s Leila, but Rope tightens its grip once the Mackay’s Cadell and Clark’s Brandon – the two outstanding performers – lock horns, one ultimately smarter than the other, as Osbon’s tad-hammy Granillo, by now a drunk, quivering wreck, slumps by the chest.

Rope is the work of a young company finding its feet, a new addition to the Theatre@41 portfolio with plenty of room to grow and another production on its way.

Box office: tickets.41monkgate.