Just four days after being at The Royal Court for the shocking but brilliant “Violence And Son“, I found myself returning back again to see “hang”, the other play currently showing in this split venue. “Violence and Son” had left such an effect on me that it was strange to go back to the same building so soon and try to watch another play, especially another play that was clearly going to need a lot of thought.
I was very much hoping for something slightly less shocking and disturbing, and thankfully I got it, sort of anyway. I mean, what on earth could be a better piece of light relief than what was basically a discussion on capital punishment and what it might be like if we were allowed to select the way it was to be administered? Oh yes, light relief indeed!
I’d decided to go to see “hang” purely and simply on the basis of the lead actor, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, known to me for her role in “Without A Trace”, a standard American TV series, but one of those shows that just got my interest, and in no small part because of her, as she seemed to give the show some character. So it was a little surprising to find she was born and bred in London, and had cut her teeth in places like the Royal Court originally. Of course from the moment she opened her mouth tonight, suddenly it was very obvious she was a London girl, the accent clearly not faked.
“hang” (yes I know I keep putting a small “h”, it’s apparently how it’s meant to be, take it up with the writer if you have a problem) reminded me in so many ways of “The Nether“. Both plays worked around a central concept that for a long time isn’t made obvious. Like “The Nether” it takes time to start to piece it together, to work out what is really going on. It’s not giving anything away to explain that our central nameless character is a victim of crime, we don’t know what the crime was except that it is clearly serious. She expresses her anger at being a victim, and in very clear and blunt words explains how it has destroyed her family, and how the two officials she is in the room with just do not understand how she is feeling.
It’s 70 minutes of superb acting, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is worth the effort, her anger is real, and as I watched, I swear she shrunk physically on the stage as she moved through the emotions, going from anger to misery as it seemed the person who did whatever it was to her seems to have one final moment to take away more of her dignity.
Like “The Nether”, the play doesn’t have a real beginning or an end, it’s all about a middle, It’s up to the audience to decide those parts; the beginning is the question of what brought us here, although I would argue we don’t really need to know, and the end, what of the person who committed the crime, and what of the victim and her family afterwards.
It’s one of those plays that is open to so much debate, something that you could discuss for hours afterwards in the bar; both on the rights and wrongs of capital punishment, as well as the more personal question of how would we deal with being able to make the decision of how someone should be put to death.
While “Violence And Son” left me stunned and disturbed about its context, “hang” was very different; it entertained and it left questions, both about what it didn’t tell you as well as what we would do in a similar position. Enjoyable in the debate that it leaves and enjoyable to see an actor dominate a stage and show what separates the good actors from the great ones. And Marianne Jean-Baptiste is clearly great.
Thankfully though, while the subject matter was heavy, the fact we couldn’t relate to these characters in the same way we could with “Violence And Son” meant that even as we watched our leading lady shake with anger, for me I could watch and admire without feeling the same way I had those few days earlier. I’m not sure I want to feel that way again for a while!
So, after a week where I saw two great but heavy plays in one great venue, I’m now thinking it’s time for something more light and fluffy and easy-going; anyone fancy coming to see “1984” with me soon then?