BWW Review: HANG, Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Debbie Tucker Green's hang takes us into a world where everything is obfuscated. Even the characters are nameless, known only as ONE, TWO and THREE.
The play begins as a woman (THREE, played by Diveen Henry) is ushered into a glaringly bright, sparsely furnished office by a couple of blandly corporate officials (ONE and TWO, played by Marianne Oldham and Sid Sagar).
We don't know who they are, or why they are there, but we know that something dark is lurking beyond the layers of bureaucratic babble ONE and TWO throw at THREE about making her comfortable.
As the one-act play develops, we begin to piece together some of what has happened to THREE - she has been a victim of a crime - but many details are deliberately obscured from us, forcing us to second-guess the way ONE and TWO force her to read between the lines of what they are saying about her situation.
She wants transparency, but they are bound by layers of regulation and protocol forbidding them from giving her the full picture. THREE repeatedly refuses to play along with their attempts at niceties and formalities, and needles away at their weaknesses to expose them.
The play is a power struggle, not only between the three characters, but involving outside parties - particularly the perpetrator of the crime, and 'the system'. All three feel trapped in this game of cat and mouse, trying to gain the upper hand yet, knowing none of them have the ultimate say in what happens to them.
Debbie Tucker Green's writing is tight and sharp - expertly mimicking the trite corporate-speak of the officials, contrasted with the humour, anger and sadness of THREE's speeches. This play won't be for everyone, and a key revelation that drives the last third of the plot arrives with less subtlety than I expected, given the more naturalistic writing of the piece.
The cast are uniformly excellent, and Taio Lawson's direction pitches just the right balance between movement and stillness, silence and noise.
Rosanna Vize's set design perfectly captures the sense of them being confined in a corporate space that is out of step with the sensitivity of the situation. The walls are covered in a large screen-print of grass, presumably intended to make people feel comfortable, whilst having the entirely opposite effect in reality.
Card-entry systems on the door are frustratingly erratic; the air-con system oscillates between sweltering and freezing; the water cooler has only two modes - cold and lukewarm; movement sensitive fluorescent lighting flickers off when characters are still, adding an eerie sense of a system that is opaque and has no room for human agency.
A lone goldfish serves as a metaphor for THREE's experience - the shape of its tank deliberately replicating the sharp rectangle of the room.
Dan Balfour's sound design complements this well, with ambient noise that escalates in its feeling of oppressiveness and torture as THREE's experience becomes more nightmarish.
Photo by The Other Richard.