Pros: 70 minutes of faultless acting and impeccable design, with heart-wrenching writing to boot.
Cons: If you’re looking for current affairs or a satirical view on capital punishment, this is not the play to find it
Debbie Tucker Green and I have history: a fleeting four weeks, the existence of which is nothing to her but has marked me for life. This was my first term at drama school, in all its daunting and built up glory, and we set upon our first project: duologues. Everyone else seemed to get good, but pretty standard pieces, the kind that can be sight read without too much trouble. My pal and I were handed Tucker Green’s Stoning Mary. My first glance inflated me with panic and deflated my faith in my own competency in one swoop. This was seconded by our teacher who shot out ‘I’m not sure this is going to work’ (subtext: ‘you’re fresh-faced eighteen year olds with no knowledge of the world, and this, now this, is the world.’) before we’d even started to read. I stopped myself from thinking about the phrasing, the staccato beat and the ellipses and just read Older Sister. By the end of it we were all goose-bumped up and teary eyed. As the weeks went by I became completely awed by Tucker’s ability to make the intricately complexity of her writing seem sparse and the deep-rooted problems and feelings of humanity seem simple: brutal, but simple.
That brutal simplicity is painfully present in hang. Even more brutal and even more simple. A woman known only as Three has suffered shattering and unspeakable pain at the hands of another. We never know the details of the crime, but this has affected her family indefinitely. This experience has changed the course of the family’s emotional stability, and their ability to immerse themselves back into the world. Three now has the power to decide whether the perpetrator ought to be given the death penalty and, worse still, what kind of death he should be given. The offender’s entire mortality is brought down to a multiple choice quiz; electric chair, lethal injection, firing squad or hanging. By the time Three arrives, her mind is already made up and yet her decision does not seem ruthless. Her anguish, though unspoken, is so real that it sticks in the throat. This is partially because of Tucker Green’s unique writing style, through which she says so much by barely saying anything at all. But it is also through Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s virtuoso performance, where not a single note is overplayed. True pain doesn’t get shouted from the rooftops, true pain is internal and it is silent.
The difficulty with Tucker Green’s words are that they are less than subjective: pauses and hesitations are dictated. The actor then has to craft her way around it. Add to that the fact that Debbie Tucker Green directed the play herself, and it becomes clear how challenging this role must have been. It certainly didn’t look so from Jean-Baptiste’s perspective. Her character is placed in a clinical room: grey chairs, water coolers and strip lighting. The walls are static and shiny and the atmosphere is sterile. She is faced with two officials: One and Two, whose entire lives are dictated by protocol. They are emotionless, they are trained in making conversation and yet take 5 minutes to ask how Three is. This is all part of the impeccable balance of those 70 minutes.
The criticism of hang (that I ear wigged) was that capital punishment is no longer prevalent. True. But I don’t think that’s really the point. The point, at least for me, is how humanity is squashed into order, rules, regulations and protocol, casting aside emotion and just plain needs. The point is the rift between people as people and people as part of the system. Regardless of how you interpret the play though, this show is deeply moving, impeccably written and perfectly performed.
Author: Debbie Tucker Green
Director: Debbie Tucker Green
Producer: Royal Court
Booking Until: 18/072015
Box Office: 02075655000
Booking Link: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/hang?tab=1