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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Cut
Donmar Theatre Spring 2006

Mark Ravenhill's new play looks at both the banality and the corrupting power of evil. Without ever mentioning them, it evokes both the Nazis and South African apartheid, and also glances at a Sam Shepard-like comment on the soul-destroying effects of living in denial and at the idea that revolutions always end up more repressive than the tyrants they deposed.

That's a lot to talk about in 90 minutes, and one weakness of the play is that its metaphors fly off in so many different directions that they threaten to lose focus. But the play is concentrated enough that the power is there, even if it takes you a while afterward to sort out its targets.

The cut of the title is a surgical procedure - there are hints that it's a kind of lobotomy - that an unnamed state routinely performs on its underclass, but which has perversely become a badge of honour to that class. In an opening scene we watch a young man (Jimmy Akingbola) demand the operation as his right from the reluctant bureaucrat-doctor played by Ian McKellen.

We then move to the bureaucrat's home, where never mentioning what he does, or the clear immorality of their privileged lifestyle, has reduced the relationship with his wife (Deborah Findlay) to a horrible sterility. A further scene raises the question of how different things will be after a regime change.

Director Michael Grandage and his cast take a number of very risky chances in the playing of these scenes, and all of them work. In the first section, for example, McKellen flirts with but carefully avoids farce as his torturer is more reluctant than the adamant victim.

The sterility of the domestic scene is shown in the clear discomfort Deborah Findlay's character shows throughout, but then Grandage takes a real gamble as the scene ends with the couple sitting down to dinner and he makes us watch in growing discomfort as they sit and eat for what seems like forever without exchanging a word.

(On a more trivial but technically impressive level, Grandage stages some of the smoothest and mood-sustaining set changes I can remember ever seeing.)

The Cut may ultimately tell us nothing new about the nature of evil, but its strong metaphors and that sort of powerful acting and direction make it the complacency-shaking experience the author clearly intended.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Cut - Donmar 2006