Review: Marianne Jean-Baptiste Stars in hang, Royal Court Theatre

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What is hang about? I cannot tell you. What happens in it? Even after watching it, I do not know for sure. Everything in this play is a little elusive. Facts, motivations, even names, place and time. Yet this is a play that plunges headlong into a dark situation where victim’s justice is taken to its farthest point.

Three people are in a room and one of them has to make a decision. A crime has been committed and a choice has to be made. But the person who has to make that decision (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a stranger to the room. She has been invited there, to a room that she does not know. And she has come alone.

The other two characters (Claire Rushbrook and Shane Zaza) know the room, it is their office. It is their territory. They want to know the woman’s decision. But they are also keeping secrets from her, shards of information – facts and figures – that she needs to know but they cannot tell. Or shouldn’t tell.

But the woman isn’t going to tell them her decision until she knows what they are keeping from her. Something is going to have to give.

ROYAL COURT: JERWOOD DOWNSTAIRS - HANG BY DEBBIE TUCKER GREEN, JUNE 2015

Sharp, fast dialogue snaps back and forth. Games are played and characters are played off one another with deliberate intent to manipulate and outmanoeuvre. But there is also frailty and doubt, apology and sincere pity. Everyone here is hurting, everyone here is a little insecure.

The three characters are never named. Their backgrounds never described, their roles in the room never clearly laid out. The incident at the heart of the debate is never explained. And, of course, what fills this void is the feverish leaps of the audience’s imagination.

Who are these people? What did they do? What has happened before this? How do they know each other? Where are we?

It is an extraordinary achievement from writer and director debbie tucker green that the feverish attempts by the audience to solve this puzzle doesn’t dim for one second of this 70 minute production. Right to the end, our minds are frenetically trying to piece together this incomplete jigsaw, leaping to conclusions only to find ourselves in a dead-end, with an incorrect assumption, and having to remap it all out again.

ROYAL COURT: JERWOOD DOWNSTAIRS - HANG BY DEBBIE TUCKER GREEN, JUNE 2015

The ending is clever, being both satisfactory and completely unsatisfactory at the same time. To reveal any more would be to betray part of this journey that I urge you to experience for yourselves.

But what this play feels like is a warning. The characters are all modern, contemporary, but the situation isn’t today. This play feels like it is set in the future but not that far away. Possibly only tomorrow.

This near-futuristic dystopian feel is reflected beautifully in a striking set from Jon Bausor. Strip lighting fizzes above a stark, bare room. Yet the walls are reflective plastic sheets that shake and tremble ever so slightly, giving the impression of a world that could be real, could be just an apparition. A dream – or a nightmare – of what could come to pass. A nightmare that if you were to reach out to touch it, could melt away and evaporate.

ROYAL COURT: JERWOOD DOWNSTAIRS - HANG BY DEBBIE TUCKER GREEN, JUNE 2015

But there’s no doubting the extraordinary performance at the heart of this play. Marianne Jean-Baptiste. What can I say? The talent, the craft that woman has is awesome. Just awesome. She is the one that has arrived at this office for reasons that are not explained, she is the isolated one in the room, and she is the one who must make this unspeakable decision.

Marianne’s hands tremble but her voice rarely falters. Her shoulders weigh heavy with the pain she is feeling but when she accuses, she never lets her gaze drop from those she attacks. Her portrayal of this woman is filled with complexity and contradictions, a brilliant manifestation of the tangled web of emotions that this woman must be feeling. It really is superb. And so understated.

hang is a stunning piece of theatre. Writer and director, debbie tucker green has not just created a fascinating, gripping piece that examines revenge, suffering and human frailties, but she has shown it at its most foreboding.

Royal Court Theatre, London to July 18, 2015

Image Credits:

  1. Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Three). hang, written and directed by debbie tucker green, Royal Court. Photo credit Stephen Cummiskey.
  2. Shane Zaza (One), Claire Rushbrook (Two), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Three). hang, written and directed by debbie tucker green, Royal Court. Photo credit Stephen Cummiskey.
  3. Shane Zaza (One), Claire Rushbrook (Two). hang, written and directed by debbie tucker green, Royal Court. Photo credit Stephen Cummiskey.
  4. Claire Rushbrook (Two), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Three). hang, written and directed by debbie tucker green, Royal Court. Photo credit Stephen Cummiskey.

This article is also available on the Huffington Post UK website.

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