Provocative and challenging questions about the world we inhabit today are a signature trait of debbie tucker green’s theatre. What if we lived in a country without enough life-saving medicine for the treatment of Aids, she asks in Stoning Mary. Or, how come the lives of so many young Black teenage boys get cut short by indiscriminate knife crime is a question raised by Random. Her latest play currently running Downstairs at the Royal Court and directed by tucker green is no exception; here the question is what if we were in a position to decide how the perpetrator of a serious crime against us is to die for their actions?
Set in a time that is ‘nearly now’, Hang portrays three characters who are identified as simply One, Two and Three. Three is stipulated as female and Black; she and her family have been the victim of an undisclosed crime that we are given to understand has shattered all of their lives. And she is the one who now gets to decide how the perpetrator will die.
It is a chilling short piece (running at one hour and ten minutes) laced with dark humour as the two other characters, representatives of a bureaucratic, justice-administering institution, take her through the process of decision-making. The palpable suffering of Three (hands repeatedly shaking) juxtaposes with the absurd officialdom of One and Two; the serious matter in-hand contrasts starkly with their trivial routines about what kind of drink they can fetch her, whether they might hang up her coat, or their profuse apologies for the on-stage water dispenser that is meant to provide hot and cold alternatives, but always and only offers a lukewarm solution.
The play is written in tucker green’s now eminently recognisable beautiful but brutal poetic style. The part of Three is absolutely core to the play’s delivery of the rhythmic, fragmented and elliptical lines; actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste is mesmerising and memorable in the role, giving us a woman ‘trying to hold her shit together’, trying to find the words to describe the indescribable suffering of her family. As a consummate word-smith tucker green never fails to disappoint; with this play you ‘hang’ on every word, seeking to understand what might have happened and what Three’s decision will be. I won’t spoil the ending by giving away the detail for those who might not yet have seen the play. Ultimately, if in some ways I find the question at the heart of this piece less pressing or prescient for the ‘nearly now’ than others she has tackled, it still confirms tucker green as one of the finest playwrights currently writing for the British stage.