Pros: An intricate exploration into the power dynamics of society with an exceptional cast and a truly remarkable script.
Cons: A slight lack of clarity in the underlying tension between the two parents and their daughter, Anna.
Upon first glance The Cane looks like a version of a living-room play seen time and time before. Yet, something isn’t quite right. The high ceilings are a little too high; the furniture is sparse, and why is the staircase in pieces? Mark Ravenhill’s new play tracks the professional and social demise of Edward, a recently retired teacher now trapped inside his home, held captive by the angry mob of students that have formed outside his front door. As he and his wife, Maureen, try to keep up appearances, the arrival of their estranged daughter Anna threatens to unnerve their pretense, as Edward’s sinister past comes to light.
Chloe Lamford’s set is perfectly eerie and changeable: it seems to breathe with the pace of the play. As the mob outside grows, and Edward’s barely contained anger threatens to burst its banks, the set seems to mock its hostages. The once-stylish home that forms the backdrop of the play is the perfect metaphor for understanding the spirit of the The Cane. The crowded patterned wallpaper and brown carpeted stairs haven’t aged well, and neither have the domestic or political values of Maureen and Edward.
Alun Armstrong impressively captures Edward’s battle to keep a lid on his rising panic. Meanwhile Maggie Steed portrays a wife trapped by the need to look to her husband for reassurance, whilst knowing full well he is the source of the problem. Nicola Walker deftly embodies Anna, who invites an insidious liberalism into the play, dressed up as salvation.
The hostility between the parents and their daughter isn’t, I think, properly explored, but the actors clearly understand the necessity of getting to the contradictory heart of this remarkable script. Vicky Featherstone’s direction is deliciously awkward. The lack of seating bar one impractical wooden chair keeps the characters in confrontation, uncomfortably looming over one another.
Utterly engrossing, the 95 minutes go by in the blink of an eye. This play is provocative, blatantly marking the structural flaws in our society. The manipulation of power by those who sit at the top of the political food chain is made evident through the dissection of one antiquated form of punishment – the cane. Edward was one cog in a morally shaky structure of discipline, and the play explores how far he should be punished for his small role.
The Cane is impressive: blunt but intricately complex. The constant hum of the angry crowd outside seems to combat the pseudo-rationality of the characters inside. It’s a little unrealistic that such a crowd would so adamantly camp outside for six days, but perhaps they function as a more hopeful metaphor: an opportunity to break down the unfair dynamic of power The Cane makes evident.