Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Hanging by Angela Betzien

The Hanging by Angela Betzien.  Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 1, August 3 – September 10, 2016.

Directed by Sarah Goodes.

Designers: Set and Costume – Elizabeth Gadsby; Lighting – Nicholas Rayment; Composer and Sound – Steve Francis; Video – David Bergman.

Rehearsal Photographer – Hon Boey

Cast: Luke Carroll – Detective Flint; Ashleigh Cummings – Iris Hocking; Genevieve Lemon – Ms Corrossi.

Final Preview reviewed by Frank McKone
August 1

Ashleigh Cummings in rehearsal as Iris

If you are keen to be in the debate about education – and how could you not be this week? – apart from podcasting Life Matters on ABC Radio National this morning (August 3, 9am), you could not do better than see a different twist at Wharf 1 tonight.

The Hanging is a theatrical fiction derived from a literary fiction.  The play explores the effect that teaching a particular novel might have on fourteen-year-old girls, boarders in a private girls’ school, supposedly in Melbourne.

The author has created a powerful dramatic constraint by reducing the action to just three characters.  Two students of a tightly bonded threesome cannot be found.  The third has appeared at a police station.  Her English teacher is nominated to be her ‘friend’ while she is interviewed by a detective.

In an hour and a quarter we discover the real story behind the mysterious disappearances.  On the way, we learn a lot about being a teacher, being a daughter especially of split parents who pay $30,000 a year for her schooling, and about such girls’ imaginations and sexual drive.

The script is excellent – tightly focussed and emotionally engaging.  The three performers get everything right, and Ashleigh Cummings deserves special commendation for presenting so well both Iris’ childishness and desire to be seen as an adult.  While Genevieve Lemon is a good example, she explained to me, of the daughter told by her parents not to become an actor without backing up with a degree.  So she trained as an English teacher, but never actually taught.  In his role as Detective Flint, Luke Carroll presents a very un-Flint like character, very concerned for the well-being of his interview subject while searching out the right way to find the information he needs.

The use of video to provide the bush setting, outside the city where the interview takes place in Iris' father's flat, works very well.  The role of the bush is to raise the deepest theme in the play: how do we know reality from fantasy?

From my career as a teacher of both literature and practical drama, I can confirm how central this concern is for teenagers on the border – physically represented by a diagonal wall in the very simple but effective set design – between childhood and adulthood, for all sexual orientations and people of all different cultures.

Genevieve Lemon also spoke of the process of bringing the work to production, where the actors began familiarising themselves with the script some 18 months ago, and then following all the amendments as Sarah Goodes and designer Elizabeth Gadsby worked with Angela Betzien through to the final six weeks’ rehearsal.  And, she pointed out, the three actors parallel the characters in age and stages of their own lives and careers, giving the performance another layer of reality.  From her point of view, since she has been playing comedy so much, acting in this kind of psychological drama is very satisfying.

So, after my also having seen Belvoir’s Twelfth Night this weekend, I must misquote Shakespeare and say: If scriptwriting and development of this quality be the food of the Sydney Theatre Company, then play on, I say – play on.

Luke Carroll, Ashleigh Cummings and Genevieve Lemon
in rehearsal as Dtective Flint, Iris Hocking and Ms Corrossi

Ashleigh Cummings as Iris Hocking
in rehearsal for The Hanging