hang (Royal Court Theatre, 18th July 2015)
Unbelievably, for the first time in my life, I find myself agreeing with Quentin Letts on something. For most of hang's opening dialogue, "its little feints and repetitions soon sound forced"1 - the 'why don't you... you could... ' is badly executed, and seems unnatural. However this can be forgiven in a away, as feeling forced and unnatural is the whole point of the play, a play which critiques bureaucracy with a whir of air con and blinkering medical lights. The two officers/lawyers/admin staff, of some description, make difficult conversation with a woman who is suffering years after an unspeakable tragedy, to decide her perpetrator's method of death - however the conversation about Ikea furniture is nearly as unsettling, as the two officer/lawyers/admin seem to find their own meaningless chatter easier to listen to then the victim they are supposed to be comforting.
What truly carries this piece is the incredible ability of Marianne Jean-Baptiste to utterly convince you of her hidden trauma. She offers only shards of the devastation she and her family must live with - burdened with protocol that offers an inability to emphasize or comfort its victims. The two employees' constant demands for her to conform to their training, their meticulous repetitions of drinks they stock, becomes a desperate plea for her to make their awkwardness bearable.
The failures of a criminal justice system, however distant it may seem from our own in its capital punishment, become painfully apparent as the central agony of the play is revealed - the criminal has written her, the victim, a letter. The agony should be the content of the letter, however what hits the hardest is the revelation that this letter has been withheld from the victim for not the initial four days they suggest, but a number of months. And they cannot offer any advice on whether to read it or not, however it is apparent they clearly have read it themselves but cannot divulge its information. Nor can they allow themselves or the letters content to influence the victims decision on its writer's death, a decision that is described and sold to her like a consumers choice. The victim's decision is hanging, which she is informed requires impressive mathematical skill, causing her to hope that the executioner is "as shit at maths as I was"2. And upon making her choice, she is left to bear the contents of letter alone, in a room that seemed so medical, becoming just as fracturing as the victim itself. Jon Bausor's beautiful set encompasses this fragility perfectly - its lights flicker, and its walls waver, and the protocol is just as delicate as the victim it has failed.
1. Review of 'hang', Quentin Letts, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3127369/QUENTIN-LETTS-night-review-hang.html
2. Hang, debbie tucker green