I’m embarrassed, but it’s necessary to open with a confession. Prior to my visit to Alphabetti Theatre to see the acclaimed hang, written by Debbie Tucker Green, I wasn’t aware that this amazing venue was doing such superb work, right in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne. There are no excuses. I’m sorry.
Described as ‘the best kept secret in Newcastle’, Alphabetti Theatre is an independent, intimate performance space, bar and secondhand bookshop. It’s also a rehearsal space, a prop and costume workshop/store and artist studios. The space feels welcoming and inclusive and there’s even a lovely dog who, alongside Ali Pritchard, the driving force behind this creative venue, oversaw proceedings.
Prior to the performance, Pritchard explains to the audience that Alphabetti believes that great art should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it. More than 80 per cent of the work included in the programme is part of a ‘pay what you feel’ scheme, which means that audiences get to pay what they want. Tickets for the remaining 20 per cent of events are all under £10.
The Alphabetti mission statement is inspirational. The theatre was not opened for business, money or personal gain, but to provide a fringe venue in Newcastle and the North East and to ensure the development and improvement of the ecology of the performing arts in the region. Based on the audience and the quality of this production, the team are bang-on-target to achieve their aims.
Both hang and its writer boast impressive pedigrees. The play was first performed in 2015 at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, where Tucker Green had staged previous works including truth and reconciliation, random and stoning mary. This run is the North East premiere and is directed by Yolanda Mercy, whose creative achievements and transferable skills could cause a meltdown on LinkedIn.
Three actors manage to hold the audience in a state of permanent anxiety. For quite some time, the reason for their meeting in an austere, authoritarian space is unclear. Janine Leigh and Simmie Kaur expertly portray a pair of unnamed, authoritarian figures whose brief gradually becomes apparent. The duo channel something of the Keystone Cops as they struggle to manage a situation that is clearly going to deal with the worst kind of pain.
Shereener Browne’s performance as the ‘victim’ is heartrending. While she and her family have obviously been shattered by whatever it is that has actually occurred, she pits her strength and determination against her own vulnerability and fear. Working in the small space of Alphabetti, Browne casts emotions into the audience, which just wouldn’t be possible in a less intimate setting.
[Warning: this paragraph contains spoilers] As the story unfolds, we learn that the purpose of this meeting is to allow Browne’s character to decide how the person who has harmed her family is to be punished. More specifically, how they are to be executed. The most uncomfortable section of the play comes as Kaur details the specifics of the different executional options. Ah, hang. The reason for the title of the play suddenly becomes clear.
Dealing with incompetence within authority, the horrendous fracturing of a family and the ethical question of whether revenge can ever be justified, hang is a production that may well leave you exhausted. But it also provides a compelling reason (if one is ever needed) to head to Newcastle this autumn.
Images by Matt Jamie
hang is at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne until October 16, 2021. For more information, or to book tickets, click here.