Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 29th November 2018
“a static and disappointing production that chooses not to evoke any discussion of gender politics”
In a time when notions of patriarchal norms and practises are being questioned by empowered women, Jorge Robinet’s gender-swapped revival of Mark Ravenhill’s 2006 play ‘The Cut’ feels like it should be a production of topical urgency. Unfortunately, this urgency is lost in a static and disappointing production that chooses not to evoke any discussion of gender politics.
The play follows Paul (David Paulin), a man who works for the government administering some kind of archaic, violent surgical procedure known as ‘the cut’. When an unusual patient – Johanna (Francesca Ottley) – comes to him one day demanding ‘the cut’, believing she has waited her whole life for this moment, Paul’s life is seemingly sent into disarray. Throughout the play, we see the repercussions the violent act has on his home life with his wife, Susan (Molly Wheaton), and his daughter, Stephanie (Katie Warnusz-Steckel), a university student who strongly opposes the traditions that her father’s work upholds.
From the outset, this production wanted to make us, the audience, implicit in whatever violent act was about to take place. Not only were we seated in the round, but as we entered the space we were invited to vote on who should be the recipient of ‘the cut’. This allows for actors Ottley and Warnusz-Steckel to alternate characters depending on who wins the vote – Ottley won on this particular night. The voting aspect made space for all of the cast members to demonstrate an impressive amount of improvisation that was undeniably gripping, comedic and unsettling all at once. It was an exciting choice that was lost on the rest of the production. Whilst being seated in the round allowed for the actors to occasionally address us, this technique can only work if the performers and scenes are given movement; in moments of fierce dialogue between two characters, it was disappointing and alienating to be staring at a cast member’s back for ten minutes. The standstill nature of this production also meant that Ravenhill’s dialogue, which is sparse and staccato, exploiting the realist techniques of unfinished sentences and overlapping lines, slowed down the piece. Scenes dragged, became disengaging and, at times, frustrating to listen to. When you haven’t been been given the opportunity to connect to characters in the first place, it’s difficult to care about their emotional journey . Despite a lack of direction creating a stilted disconnect to certain characters, special mention must be made to Katie Warnusz-Steckel, who despite playing characters that were silent for two thirds of the play, remained captivating and compelling throughout.
In a piece with such brutal and disturbing undertones, the underwhelming nature of the action meant that key moments of the play felt limp and lacklustre; emotional breakdowns felt awkward and unjustified and the actual ‘cut’ – despite taking place next to where we sat – didn’t push far enough in a play that feels inherently violent. What the moment of ‘the cut’ did do, however, was demonstrate a slick and noteworthy element of this production – the lighting (designed by Matthew Prentice). Cued by actors with a click of the fingers, spotlights would appear, blackouts would occur, and this was one thing that gave the show a sense of urgency and pace that was absent from the physical performance.
Of course, not all gender-swapped performances must demand explicit discussion of gender politics, but the premise of this particular play leaves open the opportunity to provoke these conversations. Indeed, the space, the concept, the lighting and some moments of great acting give this production all the ingredients of an exciting show, but it ultimately falls victim to a static lack of direction that will alienate and confuse it’s audience.
Reviewed by Tobias Graham
Lion & Unicorn Theatre
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