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 The Theatreguide.London Review

hang
Royal Court Theatre  Summer 2015

debbie tucker green – the absence of capitals is her preference – writes with sympathy and power about angry black women, and the central character of hang is defined by, consumed by anger. 

Identified only as Three, in the company of One and Two, she was the victim of a horrific crime that certainly included rape and probably more, because the criminal, caught and convicted, is sentenced to execution. 

The laws of this unnamed place allow the victim to select the manner of execution, and Three is meeting with two low-level bureaucrats or cops to announce her choice. 

Most of the drama of the play lies in the clash between Three's pure and focused rage, and the pitiful and to her offensive attempts by One and Two to express sympathy and follow protocol. 

Every tentative attempt on their part to begin a sentence with 'I know' or 'I understand' is shot down with the contempt of one who knows that they cannot possibly know or understand and, what's more, that they know they cannot know and are just going through empty motions to ease their own discomfort. 

Three also sees instantly that the constant references to protocol or the rules are a smokescreen designed not to ease her way but theirs. 

Indeed, as she repeatedly cuts through the bull, it becomes more difficult for us to tell when One and Two are trying ineptly to be kind and when they're just (personally and institutionally) covering their tails, and any empathy we may have had for their awkward situation fades. 

Three will announce her choice – note the play's title – but only after forcing One and Two to take her through detailed descriptions of the process of every alternative, an experience designed to be as uncomfortable for them as it is for the audience. 

And the play ends with graphic evidence that this experience has been in no way cathartic for Three, and that her hellish torment will go on. (Acting as her own director, debbie tucker green has changed the final moments of the play from the published text, very much to its benefit.) 

Playwrights are not always the best directors of their own work, but in this case green has led her actors to to some of the finest performances of the year. 

Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes Three a woman near exhaustion from the tension of holding in a murderous rage and holding herself together, carrying the burden of a rage that, for all its outward flashes, is most painfully inner-directed and soul-devouring. 

Claire Rushbrook and Shane Zaza allow characters for whom we have some sympathy at the start dissipate it all as we watch, the actors skilfully and generously fighting every performer's instinct to be liked, in the service of the play. 

At seventy minutes the play is exactly as long as it wants to be, as any less would not build up the effect it has and any more would have trouble sustaining its intensity.

It is not a comfortable experience, and is not intended to be. But it is powerful theatre, all the more powerful because it is so quiet and perfectly controlled.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - hang  - Royal Court Theatre 2015  
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