Pros: Unlike any other theatre experience and certainly not mainstream. Norris provides thrills and chills whilst the audience searches for meaning through the darkness.
Cons: The story is weak in places and does not provide the deep revelation hoped for upon witnessing it.
Upon entry to the performance space we were given the typical airline jargon by actress Hannah Norris. However on this journey the warnings were more foreboding as were told of safety words and total darkness. Duncan Graham’s play wastes no time in delivering just that; as soon as the initial announcement ended we were plunged immediately into total blackout, with loud unnerving noir music leaving us entirely clueless as to where Norris was or where she would appear next.
CUT advertises itself as a psychological thriller and theatrical poem. Following our protagonist as she was pursued by “the man with eyes of ash” first at work on the plane, then at a train station, and lastly outside her own front door we played witness to a spectacular individual performance. Unfortunately beyond this chase there was little in the way of plot development. What was presented as the climax of the piece fell flat and was somewhat disheartening.
Despite this the play remained gripping as time and time again our strongest sense of perceiving the world – sight – was removed from us. There were thematic echoes of fantasy and mystery as we the audience struggled to decide whether Norris had simply fabricated the threat out of her own heightened fear of the modern world or if the man represented a real danger.
The narrative was fragmented – with pronouns in narration shifting constantly between “I”, “she” and “you” – and any sort of linear timescale was untraceable: one minute we were told a dream tale of a tiny woman with scissors and no mouth, the next of a brutal torture of a fish, and then back to the man hunting her. The stray pieces of the play all finally converged to produce a foreshadowed ending wherein the strange twisted anecdotes of the past repeated themselves in what we assumed was the present.
Though suspense was effectively built through blackout and sensory deprivation, little else about the story struck me with fear or discomfort; the unnerving and frightening tone of the play I attribute solely to the lighting. This was absolutely standout, with the orderly strip LEDs chiming us back to Norris’s profession as a flight attendant whilst the smaller handheld lights gave intimacy and focus to her character’s responses. The absence of light played as much of a part as the presence of it, and the juxtaposition of the two created an unnerving and untrustworthy atmosphere.
And what an atmosphere. Deep within undoubtedly my favourite theatre in London, The Vaults, the set was wonderfully minimalistic with the stage doubling up as an airplane aisle and the surrounding walls made entirely of cling film. Two black mirrors hung at either end and worked wonderfully for reflecting the small light Norris carried to illuminate her expressive face. The reflection and refraction of the cold toned light shattered the performance space into sections and encouraged an atmosphere of confusion, which aided the fragmented stories of a mentally unstable woman.
This play is not comfortable nor 2D and you are thrown directly into the action. If you fancy a relaxing easy-going theatre experience this may not be the show for you but if you can forgive a less strong storyline in favour of ingenuity and homage to hybrid genres of theatre and film then certainly give it a watch!
Writer and Director: Duncan Graham
Lighting Design: Sam Hopkins
Producer: Underbelly Productions
Booking Until: 31 July 2016
Box Office: 0207 401 9603
Booking Link: http://www.thevaults.london/#!cut/c1e1t