Stage review: hang at the Royal Court Theatre

Shane Zaza (left), Claire Rushbook (centre) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (right) in debbie tucker green's 'hang'. (Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey).
Shane Zaza (left), Claire Rushbook (centre) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (right) in debbie tucker green’s ‘hang’. (Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey).

hang offers little relief, tying a noose around the neck of a questionable justice system and tugging ever so slightly at its glaringly obvious limitations. ★★★★★

How do we mete out justice in society today? And what does ‘justice’ even mean for the shattered, traumatised victim of a crime? debbie tucker green returns to the stage with new play ‘hang’, starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste (well-known for playing bitter, hard as nails defense lawyer Sharon Bishop in ITV’s ‘Broadchurch’), Shane Zaza and Claire Rushbrook.

In a world where some judicial systems continue to make use of the death penalty, and more recently, news stories tell of lethal injections killing criminals in a more ‘humane’ way, hang explores the aftermath of a shattering crime and its impact on the victim. This victim is Jean-Baptiste, who is fraught, anxious, on edge and very, very jittery. It is much too clear that something disastrous has happened to her character, and that every movement, word and feeling is painstakingly difficult to express. Confined to disturbing black walls, oddly angled chairs and a water cooler in the corner of the room, the victim and two representatives of the criminal justice system discuss her impending decision in relation to the perpetrator who has destroyed her family.

What works so well with the play is its phenomenal script. This piece of theatre is extraordinary because of the strength and impact of its dialogue, alongside its ability to so poignantly convey the anger, disorder and pain of those on the receiving end of a haunting crime. Amidst the glitz and glamour of sensationalised crime stories in the media, the fascination often lies with who has caused the crime rather than who is on the receiving end of it. green refocuses our attention on the victim and makes this the governing impetus of her play, confronting audiences with the unbearable reality of those forgotten victims trying to ‘move on’.

At the heart of the play’s discussion lies the inability of the justice system to adequately deal with these victims, producing the depiction of their often insensitive and irritating behaviours. Zaza is particularly vital and generates a much-needed humour throughout, allowing the play to release an often unbearable pressure. When painting the slip ups and scripted nature of a ‘professional’ in matters such as the death penalty, Zaza’s character frequently torments the victim through his goofball dialogue, and at one point very mechanically lists the various ways in which criminal executions take place; discussing the method of shooting a criminal, his character humorously reassures the victim that “they don’t run around or anything” and that they are indeed strapped down before they are sentenced to death. It is exactly the humour and stupidity of this character that suggests tucker is implicitly scrutinising the way in which justice is viewed and talked about today, and the manner in which victims of crime are treated – and even mistreated – in society.

Jean-Baptiste performs her dialogue with precision and to carefully considered effect. As she makes her decision about the fate of the criminal, the play becomes increasingly unsettling and very obviously questions the morality and ethics of the situation: is this really justice or is it revenge? Whatever it is, is it right? And it is the victim’s decision upon which the entire play quite literally hangs. If green leaves audiences questioning anything, then it questions who had the power all along: the victim or criminal?

‘hang’ runs at The Royal Court Theatre, London, from 11th June – 18th July. Book tickets here.

(Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey)

(Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey)

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