hang – Royal Court Theatre

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★★
Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Downstairs – until 18 July 2015

VENGEANCE WITHOUT SATISFACTION

In a bleak neon office (design by Jon Bausor) a much awaited new play by debbie tucker green, always modishly lower-case in titles, takes no prisoners.Except that it is about one, unseen and awaiting a capital punishment decision by his victim in some unspecified but British dystopia. Directed by the author, it is a 75 minute study in unreconciled trauma and the awkward insensitivities of officialdom and protocol. And perhaps (to a sympathetic ear) a good evocation of the perennial inability of non-victims to understand the tearing ,incurable dislocation of personality involved in rape.

Well, we must assume it was violent intruder rape, since all the household members – husband, sister, children – are spoken of as alive, if damaged . The characters, unnamed, are three. Claire Rushbrook and Shane Zaza do rather well as awkward, witteringly nervous bureaucrats, fretting antiphonally about IKEA coat pegs and getting real glasses for the watercooler. Zaza has a particularly fine crass moment as he stamps the final document with ‘love this bit!’   And Rushbrook, slightly senior, a good defensiveness about how long it has taken the system to disgorge the  criminal’s letter to his victim

That victim is a shabby black woman on mid-life, nervous but defiant : Marianne Jean-Baptiste couldn’t be better.  The trio work round awkwardly to the point, the officials prating of decisions and offering time, supporters, literature etc, all by the book. Jean-Baptiste is uncommunicative until she breaks out into passionate testimony to her family’s utter lack of any recovery in three and a half years: the children’s terrors, neighbours’ shunning, marriage damaged.
As it becomes clear that she can choose his death, Tucker  Green goes into ghoulish execution-shed options and descriptions, of a kind tiresomely familiar to frequenters of “brave” theatre. The victim wants him hung, ideally by an incompetent who risks overlong twitching asphyxia or gruesome decapitation. Finally she reads his letter.  In the original playscript there is a moment of potential subtlety at the end as she does this: onstage only telling silence.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great actress, and the author deft and verbally clever.  But not one of the trio is given full credible humanity: the two interviewers are merely symbols of officialdom ,  and the subject an avatar of bleakly ,determinedly pessimistic and vengeful victimhood.  Given any scope at all, Jean-Baptiste could have far better served a better play.
box office 020 7565 5000 to 18 July      Rating  two

pessimistic and vengeful victimhood.  Given any scope at all, Jean-Baptiste could have far better served a better play.
box office 020 7565 5000 to 18 July

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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