Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More theatre, this time a dark comedy about a retired hangman

In the evening it was back to an incredibly busy Leicester Square to see the play, 'Hangmen.' The opening scene featured a very grim looking prison cell where a hanging was about to take place.

'Hangmen' is a black comedy about a retired executioner, Harry Wade played by David Morrissey and presumably named after real-life hangmen Harry Allen and Stephen Wade. The story unfolds in the smoky lung of a Manchester pub run by this dour, upright local celebrity.

We drop in on Harry on the day that hanging is abolished in 1965. A baby-faced newspaperman wants an interview. Any mention of ‘celebrity’ executioner Albert Pierrepoint gets Harry’s goat. The regulars slip into an easy hierarchy of knockabout male power. But matters turn uneasy when a cocky young southerner, Mooney, starts to ingratiate himself at the pub. Unease turns to dread when Harry’s daughter, Shirley goes missing and Harry’s former assistant, Syd has suspicions about the culprit.

The play is very funny with hints of farce to sweeten the menace. ‘Hangmen’ lives and breathes its period with the smoke machine in overdrive. There’s a hint of 1960s cinema in ‘Hangmen’ too. That partly comes via the northern kitchen-sink dramas of the decade, but it’s also there in how young Mooney nods to the discomforting modish charm of the likes of Malcolm McDowell. It certainly had a hint of Clockwork Orange.

For all its talk of hanging and abolition, this isn’t a political play. It’s more about the past catching up with the present, and about power and pride among men. A hangman might wield power over his victim – but there’s always someone round the corner with a bigger, longer rope if he’s not careful. It’s a vicious, funny play, stained with nicotine and nihilism. It was most enjoyable.

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