The Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 18th July 2015
What is the theatre for? To entertain? To educate? To question? When these three facets align in a work, the impression left by it, can cause us to question our own perspective of a thing far more deeply than we thought previously possible.
debbie tucker green (all lower-case) has, in her latest play, hang, sought to position victimhood centre stage and write a bold and impassioned piece, reminding us of the red-hot anger, savage bitterness and unbridled hatred that can curdle in the hearts of victims of violent crime.
hang begins with three characters, all unnamed, arriving in a sterile and nondescript room. Two of the three are dressed in the ubiquitous office uniform, white shirts without ties, of some agency or other, whose job, it soon becomes clear, is to facilitate the punishment of an unnamed criminal. The third character, and centre of the play, is the victim of that criminal whose violent act has destroyed her life and the lives of her family. The victim has been called to this place so she can make a decision on a fitting punishment for the unseen perpetrator.
What ensues is a tense and strained situation, at times bleakly funny and at others, harrowingly painful, where the victim, played with great force and twitching anxiety by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, tries to disclose the effects of this violence on her life and the lives of her family. The comedy and pathos of the piece often comes from the inability of the agency employees to abandon their protocol and stifling codes, which act only to distance them from the feelings and frustrations of the victim.
The drama of the piece simmers nicely as information is released to us in a slow and steady trickle, keeping us hooked, line by line, as to what’s coming next. Unfortunately, the iron resolve of Jean-Baptistes character as to what her decision will be leaves the play slightly underpowered and causes the all-important final dramatic-hit to be a smidge underdone. It would’ve been more compelling to see the victim struggle more with her decision, and therefore awaken those thoughts and feelings in the audience as well.
Having said that, the writing is at times tremendously skilful, tucker green has an expert’s ear for the intonations, glitches and inflections that pepper people’s speech in nervous situations, and she makes full use of stuttering unresolved sentences, repetitions and the small talk that attempts to cover that nervousness.
Jean-Baptiste’s powerful performance was matched adroitly by Claire Rushbrook and Shane Zara, in their roles as the agency employees.
By putting victimhood centre stage at The Royal Court, this thought-provoking, entertaining play also manages to leave a strong impression and opens up profound questions as to how we treat and think of what it means to be a victim.