Hannah Norris is undertaking the task of performing in the London premiere of CUT, which runs 5 to 31 July 2016 at The Vaults in London. She’s already performed the role in this dramatic and powerful play from the pen of Duncan Graham. I chatted to Hannah to find out what the audience can expect from this extraordinary piece.
Please tell me about CUT and what your first impression was of the script and the concept.
CUT is a 60-minute poetic, intense theatre work to be performed by one woman. It was inspired by Greek sources, the likes of Clytemnestra, Medea, and Atropos of the Three Fates. It’s written by award-winning Australian playwright Duncan Graham. It’s about fear and threat – and in a disjointed way – follows the story of a woman being pursued by a man.
Duncan and I have been friends for a long time and about 6 years ago when I first heard he’d written this one-woman play, I knew I wanted to read it. I thought the title was evocative and when I heard there were moments of total darkness, I was even more intrigued.
When I first read the script, I cried. It’s not a sad story, I don’t think, but I found it very powerful. I was sucked right in to the world of the play. There is a great rhythm to the text, not only in the words but the pauses and blackouts that surround them and the way that the script shifts landscapes, ideas and points of view. Right away I knew I wanted to perform this show.
Any highlights from the show? Any poignant moments or favourite scenes?
The blackouts and periods of sensory deprivation the audience experiences is a highlight for me (and them). I can feel the anticipation growing in the audience throughout my introductory speech, and when they get dropped into the first blackout – it’s very exciting. My favourite experience of the work is when I can feel the audience on side, and going on the journey of the play with me. Also surprising the audience from scene to scene.
What sort of audience reactions have you received for the piece, previously?
For our rehearsals, Duncan and I spent a lot of time in a small, windowless room trying things out, exploring the theatrical language we were going to use and ways to tell the story of CUT. I was terrified before my first performance and greeting the audience as they came into the room because they looked like such a general public audience and we weren’t sure if we’d made something really weird or arty and how non-theatre people would respond to it but they loved it. Absolutely loved it.
Because of the total darkness in the show, the audience are warned that if they want to leave the performance the show will stop, they’ll be escorted out and unable to return. We have had people do this a handful of times and in Adelaide a reviewer had to leave in the introduction because he was claustrophobic and terrified of what was in store.
Audiences certainly feel the threat and fear that is alive in the piece.
Do you suffer from nerves before a performance and what do you do to combat this?
I mostly feel nervous if I feel unprepared for something. I operate the sound and lights for CUT in performance with a remote control device that my technical director, Sam Hopkins, invented for this show. And the first preview in Edinburgh last year was pretty nerve-wracking as it was such a new idea to use it and I didn’t feel fully confident with it yet. My main way through nerves is with breathing and focus. To try and still my mind by deepening my breath, and probably shaking out my body a bit. And to trust that I know what I’m doing. It can be challenging sometimes though.
Any advice for budding actors?
Follow your dreams.
If you want to do musicals, make sure you take dance classes – that was a surprise to me when I started auditioning, that the first stage of musical audition was the dance and you had to get through that before they looked at your singing or acting and dancing was my weakest of those skills. So make sure you can dance if you want to do musicals.
Also, just go for it. Read plays, watch films, put on your own shows, be in fringe shows, care about the world, and if you want to do it, don’t have a back-up plan – try and make it work first and then look for other options if it doesn’t work out. But don’t let it beat you before you even start.
What would you say to encourage potential audience members to attend?
That CUT is an unforgettable experience. You go inside the world of the play. It is immersive, but not like the larger scale kinds of immersive theatre that are around at the moment, but in that you are right inside and close to the performer, the action, the ideas – and it’s dark and scary. It’s definitely still entertaining though. So come!
Feature photo credit: Dominic Marley