Monday, 22 June 2015

theatre review: hang

for her new play, hang, debbie tucker green returns to the subject of her 2008 hit random, which saw an ordinary family devastated by a sudden crime. but this production, which tucker green also directs, has a much more high-concept starting point: she takes us to an alternate present day where not only is the death penalty still in use, but the victims of crime have a say in the punishment. one (claire rushbrook) and two (shane zaza) are civil servants working in an anonymous office, where they have a meeting with three (marianne jean-baptiste) to discuss a decision she's had the last couple of years to come to. she knows on the way in what she's going to say - and the play's title means it's no huge secret from the audience - but the necessary bureaucracy before we get to that point is where the play's story lies, as the tensions of the last few years come to the surface.

jon bausor's set is an isolated raised platform, a meeting room with grey carpet tiles, and a walkway linking it to the outside world - office sounds play in whenever the door is opened and the trio's isolation is broken up - but when the play starts the room's in disarray with chairs knocked over, suggesting that tempers get a lot more frayed in here than in the average meeting room.


this bland office environment matches what tucker green uses to great power: one and two, who've had a lot of training but perhaps haven't actually done this too many times, awkwardly try to put three at her ease, offering her drinks, muttering about office politics, in comically uncomfortable scenes that put off the inevitable. but it's this comic awkwardness that allows the play to build up so effectively to its dark core, and jean-baptiste's astonishingly raw performance built on pure grief and fury.


but while the two civil servants' attempts to smooth the process are inept, one and two are also sympathetic characters - they have a protocol to follow that's of little use and which they barely seem to understand, meaning they're constantly being caught out in what they're meant to have told three and what they're meant to have kept from her. it's the kind of job that puts a pressure on their personal lives, but the fact that they have to make small talk means their own problems are held up to look insignificant compared to three's.


on a practical level, the characters' discomfort means they're constantly shifting places, so tucker green avoids having a play set entirely in a meeting room look static; and the flickering of a fluorescent light at key moments adds another element of dread. hang's a unique and powerful piece, perhaps too much for some people to handle - tonight's performance had a certain amount of inappropriate audience laughter - but one with a startling central performance.

hang by debbie tucker green is booking until the 18th of july at the royal court's jerwood theatre downstairs.

running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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