Review: hang (Tron Theatre)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
“It is cruel – how the world keeps spinning. Despite everything.” So writes director Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir, describing the theme at the heart of hang by debbie tucker green (who writes her name in lower case). Set in an uncanny false reality, the play focuses on three unnamed characters, one a victim of a traumatising crime (played by Renee Williams), the other two bureaucratic social workers (Pauline Goldsmith and Saskia Ashdown). In this world, the victim and the victim alone gets to decide how justice will be served, and the three characters meet to hear what William’s character has decided is the right punishment for her unseen perpetrator. As interesting as this premise is, the real focus of the play is exactly as Sigfúsdóttir says – the contrast between one’s “normal” surroundings and the uninterrupted emotional turmoil after experiencing trauma. It’s a curious play to stage so soon after a historic event that interrupted everybody’s idea of “normal”, but it is a timely reminder that recovering from trauma doesn’t stop just because the rest of the world is ready to move on.
The emphasis of green’s play is on the external and the mundane, rather than the specifics of the character and the case. What happened to Williams’ character is, like other questions that arise during the play, left unanswered. Plays that function like this intentionally are no worse off for it; one of my favourite plays is Ideation by Aaron Loeb, about a team of high-flying problem-solvers instructed to plan a genocide, which ends on a cliff hanger that leaves the audience gasping for answers in the best possible way. But plays like this need to give the audience the impression that at any point we could find out those answers. Seeing this production I wanted to feel like an eavesdropper, like the secret is on the tip of the characters’ tongues and at any point it could naturally tumble out.
(Pauline Goldsmith and Saskia Ashdown. Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in Sigfúsdóttir’s production. The dialogue feels much too tight, much too engineered. In some of the earliest dialogue, Goldsmith and Ashdown’s characters start a stream of unfinished sentences; they ask if Williams’ character would like water, tell her to sit wherever she likes, comment that the air conditioning is temperamental, and so on. The direction fails to fulfil the fumbling spontaneity of moments like those; as an audience member, you feel as if you can see the line as a big chunk of text on the page, rather than a nervous and unconscious stream of thought. In fact, a lot of the show is like that. Those questions that the text leaves tantalisingly open are just that touch too obvious from the start; we can figure out pretty quickly that we won’t get the answers we are looking for. This means that the dialogue surrounding those topics, the talking-about-talking that the script does so well, ends up being more grating than intriguing. Without that element of mystery, it feels self-contained and rehearsed. The play never crosses that line where you forget you are watching a performance.
This is especially true of Goldsmith. Her performance very rarely gave the impression that she was reacting to the actions of her co-stars, and there were moments where she seemed to trip over herself a little. Criticism like this is rarely worth bringing up in a review, but this production gives the cast absolutely nowhere to hide. Ashdown on the other hand gives a model performance of a character who is polished but emotionally unprepared; although she has comparatively fewer lines than her co-stars she brings out her character’s insecurity without making it too much of a focal point. But certainly, the greatest stage presence is that of Williams. She emits a coldness that acts like a black hole to everything that is said to her, responding to all the nauseating protocols and platitudes with a seething bitterness. When it comes to the more emotional scenes, green’s writing is doing more of the heavy-lifting than Williams’ acting, but it’s an involving performance nonetheless.
The greatest attraction of this show is seeing green’s fantastic writing on stage. Any audience members who find its premise appealing will most likely be satisfied with the production, especially its heart-stopping ending. That, paired with the uneven but mostly strong cast, should make for a well-rounded performance. It teeters on the edge of success but ultimately tips over. The lasting impression of hang is one of lost potential. Three stars.
(Renee Williams. Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)