hang review: 'A thought-provoking piece'
The set of hang is a single room in a government building which feels like a meeting room in any corporate space, fluorescent lighting and uncomfortable chairs and attempts at cheerfulness on the walls that somehow add to the bleakness of the setting. Three people enter– two civil servant types and a woman in civilian clothing.
The two case workers faff ineffectually in that way British people tend to do when they don’t really know how to diffuse the awkwardness of a situation, and the woman remains silent throughout, arms folded, closed off. When she does speak, she seems angry and frustrated with their efforts to empathise with her, asking what their apologies do for her. They seem caring but in a restricted, bureaucratic way, and their empathy seems scripted and perfunctory.
Without it ever being mentioned directly, you slowly start to put together why she’s there. She’s the victim of a violent crime and she’s there to decide the fate of the perpetrator. This is a Britain with a radically different legal system where capital punishment is used. The man has already been sentenced to death but as his victim she gets to decide how he should die, which execution method awaits him, and the decision must be hers alone, with no outside influence.
Interestingly the crime itself is only ever alluded to, and never discussed, so you never find out what it was but are left to make up your own mind. This helps to focus the story in the now, on the decision she has to make and the motivations behind it, rather than on whatever awful thing has brought her to this room.
Diveen Henry acts this beautifully and shows us a woman who has been through something unspeakable, a woman who’s angry, who’s upset, a woman who’s afraid. A woman who the system keeps on failing and is tired and hurting and raw. We see the effects of the crime upon her; even three years later she shakes so violently when she thinks of the perpetrator the glass she’s drinking from clinks against her teeth, her hand trembling so rapidly she can barely sign her name.
The lighting and sound design have also been carefully arranged to complement the emotions of the script, with the low background hum of an air conditioning system gradually becoming louder and more sinister until it feels threatening, perfectly showing the audience the agitation and anxiety that the woman is feeling. At one point the case workers leave for a couple of minutes, and the automatic sensor lights slowly click off until the woman is sat in the dark, with this sinister humming around her, her panic levels rising as she tries to make herself read a letter that the perpetrator has written to her.
The show ends in an abrupt blackout, as she sits in the room alone, her decision signed in quadruplicate in front of her, as she picks up the letter and starts to read.
Overall, I thought hang was very good. I liked the fact that it didn’t really have a start or an end but only showed you one part of a much wider story, and that we never truly can know what happened or what the outcome was. It was a thought-provoking piece and one I’m sure I’ll find myself musing on again. It’s powerfully written and the Sheffield Theatres team did a brilliant job of staging and performing it.
hang, performed at Crucible Studio, Sheffield, was directed by Taio Lawson and based on Debbie Tucker Green’s 2015 play hang.
Written by Jenni Thompson