Theatre review: hang – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

First published in The Times, Tuesday May 3 2022

THREE STARS

The prolific playwright, screenwriter, and director debbie tucker green (the lower-case letters are a hallmark) received acclaim for her 2011 play truth and reconciliation, in which victims’ families confronted perpetrators of political violence. hang, first staged at the Royal Court in 2015, imagines a society that has dispensed with restorative justice, opting instead for the death penalty, with victims of crime invited to choose the method of execution.

In speculating on how such a scenario might play out, tucker green homes in on the moment at which the victim (played by Renee Williams in Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir’s revival) is required to put the cross in the relevant box and add her signature. We find her in an antiseptic meeting room, starkly lit, with plastic chairs, the only nod to human emotion being a box of tissues plonked on a table. The bureaucrats leading the process (Pauline Goldsmith and Saskia Ashdown) attempt to jolly her along with breezy humour, before getting down to business. “This is about you, and you feeling as comfortable as we can make you feel,” they tell her.

Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Williams, huddled in her coat, and clutching her bag, is palpably ill at ease. Though she professes resolve, the grotesque situation reopens old wounds. We, along with the pen-pushers, watch helplessly as she relives the brutal attack that has wrecked her life. The playwright wisely withholds explicit detail; her interest is less in the crime itself than its aftermath, and questions of personal power and reparation. 

Aspects of Sigfúsdóttir’s production are commendable, not least the slow burn of Williams’s performance, her emotional tirades interacting with a subtle soundscape, created by Tom Oakes. Yet these powerful displays sit uneasily with the black humour tucker green derives from the situation, as though a pair of contrasting plays – one raw and unflinching, the other satirical – had been sandwiched together. 

Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The incompetence and lack of empathy displayed by the officials is so extreme as to be barely credible, even if their euphemistic use of language seems plausible. In the final drop-down table of death, Williams is asked to choose between, among other things, “expiry by inhalation” and “the rope option”, while the person facing execution is referred to as “the client”. The chilling sequence feels right on the money. 

Box office: 0141 552 4267, to May 7. Tron.co.uk

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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