Theatre reviews: hang | Mr Moonlight

An utterly absorbing production of Debbie Tucker Green’s hang helps us see how the growth of vacuous management-speak over the last 40 years has laid the ground for authoritarian horrors, writes Joyce McMillan

Saskia Ashdown and Pauline Goldsmith in hang at the Tron Theatre PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Saskia Ashdown and Pauline Goldsmith in hang at the Tron Theatre PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

hang, Tron Theatre, Glasgow *****

Mr Moonlight, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

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At first glance, Debbie Tucker Green’s hang – a chillingly intense three-handed drama first seen at London’s Royal Court in 2015 – looks like a play about the awful implacability of grief, and the raging search for justice or vengeance it can provoke. In a anonymous grey meeting room somewhere in the British police or justice system, a woman known as character 3, who has been the victim of a terrible crime, confronts two officials or police officers who need, for reasons that only gradually become clear, to interview her about her decision on a key matter of crime and punishment.

Her fury is frightening, expressed in the utter silence and occasional fierce contempt with which she greets her interviewers, with their hopeless babble about making her feel comfortable, and her terrifying pain remains at the core of the play right to its bitter and questioning end, a journey captured with stunning subtlety and intensity by Renee Williams as character 3, in this superb new Tron production by Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir.

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What makes the play truly remarkable, though, is the extent to which it also gradually unpacks the jargon-ridden world of the two interviewers, whose endless recycling of official rules and procedures, and obvious terror of breaching guidelines in career-ending ways, not only makes a mockery of the concern for the victim they so endlessly express, but is also slowly revealed as the smoke-screen behind which real acts of barbarism may take place.

When hang first opened seven years ago, the world it inhabits – a few years into an unnamed political future – was described by some as unconvincing. Today, though, with Britain in the grip of a right-wing populist government, it seems just around the corner, and with the help of inspired performances from Pauline Goldsmith and Saskia Ashdown as the two officials, Tucker Green’s brilliant play, in this utterly absorbing production, helps us see both how the vacuous management-speak of the last 40 years has laid the ground for authoritarian horrors to come, and how it subjects the most vulnerable to an empty facade of official humanity and justice that is, in some ways, even worse than their complete absence.

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After the grey and chilling bureaucratic world of hang, it’s something of a relief to turn to the latest Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime drama by Kim Millar. Not because Mr Moonlight avoids the horror of street violence that also stalks Tucker Green’s play, but because it revolves around a moment of hope that lives could be healed, and the causes of violence remedied.

It was in the late 1960s that the singer Frankie Vaughan, on tour in Glasgow, heard about the rising levels of gang violence in the city, and – conscious of his own difficult young years in Liverpool – launched a project to provide teenagers in Easterhouse with clubs, places to go, and sporting and creative opportunities, in return for the surrender of their knives.

Millar’s short 45-minute play imagines the birth of this idea in an encounter between Vaughan and the woman who cleans his dressing-room at the Barrowland Ballroom, and also her son Walter, employed to help his mum with the cleaning, but already caught up in the world of gang violence.

It’s a simple but hugely vivid idea, given tremendous life, in April Chamberlain’s production, by Andy Clark as Vaughan, Kyle Gardiner as Walter, and a wonderful Karen Dunbar as Ann the cleaner; a single mum trying to do the right thing by her son in difficult times, and delivering a version of Cry Me A River that – like Clark’s final chorus of Gimme The Moonlight – has the Oran Mor crowd roaring its approval, and asking for much more.

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hang is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 7 October; Mr Moonlight, run completed