By Liam McLoughlin 06/08/2016
You could say a 90 minute play encompassing the existential threat of climate change, the idea of marriage as prostitution, the epidemic of youthful narcissism, the urgency of critical thinking and associated risks of depression, the evisceration of quality journalism, the institutional domination of women, the value of transgression, the nature and philosophy of teaching, as well as the societal obsession with lost girls, risks being crushed under the weight of its own intellectual ambition. It's a tribute to the immense skill of writer Angela Betzien that she maintains a fine balance between nourishing ideas and dramatic propulsion throughout this tremendous new Australian play.
The Hanging is a detective thriller set in Brighton, Victoria, on one day in February, 2016. With elements of Australian Gothic, the action takes place in a single room of 14-year-old protagonist Iris Hocking’s parents’ house between Iris (Ashleigh Cummings), Detective Sergeant Flint (Luke Carroll), and English teacher Ms Corrossi (Genevieve Lemon). Iris is a boarder at an expensive private school in Geelong called Maidstone Girls College and was reported missing six days prior. While Iris appeared at a police station within 48 hours, two of her friends are still missing. Over the course of Ms Corrossi’s banter with Detective Flint and Flint’s interview with Iris, the dark corners of this mystery are gradually illuminated.
All three performances are excellent but even in great company, Genevieve Lemon stands out as Ms Corrossi. Lemon no doubt benefits from crisp writing with many of the best lines (‘I try to halt civilisational collapse one teenager at a time’, ‘someone could take a shit in her coconut water and she’d still see the bright side’), but still she fully inhabits her character. Her bristling bravado veils an intense vulnerability while her fierce intelligence is matched by her deep care for these young women. Even during engaging interactions between the detective and Iris, I found myself drawn back to Corrossi’s silent reactions.
Although the early moments between Cummings and Carroll felt overly forced and stilted, both grew immensely into their roles. You could really sense the detective’s pain when describing the child abuse cases he had investigated. Cummings’ portrayal of a fey, confused, angry adolescent is powerful, no more so than when she unleashes this anger in a withering attack on her ‘dried up’, ‘sad’ English teacher. The young actor strikingly embodies the traumatic impacts of the institutions Ms Corrossi rails against.
Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design is magnificent, dividing Iris’s external and internal worlds and using but never overusing video projections. Subtle but evocative sound design by Steve Francis adds atmospheric notes of tension and melancholy to great effect.
Director Sarah Goodes superbly orchestrates each of these elements to do justice to what is an outstanding script.
In an interview in the play’s program, writer Angela Betzien says “I see the crime genre as a political form, an opportunity to critique social and economic systems in a thrilling and entertaining way.”
You’re unlikely to see a more thrilling and entertaining systemic critique than this one.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
By Angela Betzien
Director: Sarah Goodes
Designer: Elizabeth Gadsby
Lighting Designer: Nicholas Rayment
Composer and Sound Designer: Steve Francis
Video Designer: David Bergman
Cast: Luke Carroll, Ashleigh Cummings and Genevieve Lemon
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1 Theatre
3 August – 10 September 201