Originally published on Exeunt
As children, we all have an abject fear of the dark, the monsters that can hide in the blackness. We get put to bed, the light goes out and our imaginations run wild. As we grow, as we mature, we expect to overcome our fears. We rationalise them away – the dark is simply the absence of light, the removal of one of our senses. We can cope with one being lost; the other four are heightened and our bodies naturally compensates. Yet the moment the audience is plunged into the pitch black at the start of CUT, despite Hannah Norris’ pre-flight checks and safety announcements, our minds revert back to those of frightened children. We are prey, helpless to our predator the darkness, closing our eyes and hoping it’s all just a nightmare. For Hannah, it’s not a dream. It’s not something she can wake up from, something that fades into the corners of her memory as she goes about her life.
CUT follows Hannah as she wakes up pre-dawn and prepares herself for the day – face on, heels clacking through the airport. It sees her in-flight, after landing and in the bath at the end of the day. All the while something moves out the corner of her eye – slicked back black hair, buttoned shirt. She turns round but there is nothing. She bids goodbye to her passengers, a polite smile masking her terror at spotting him. Her bath at night is not nearly as relaxing as one would hope. Is she simply imagining things, or is she correct to be so paranoid?
Duncan Graham’s writing and direction of CUT instantly instils empathy on its lead character. She, like the audience, is plunged into the unknown with no warning, drowning in a deadly sea as the waves of piercing noise and sound crash over her with relentless ferocity. Small rays of light provide a life raft, a port in the storm. The result is harrowing – lighting and sound cues instantly snap Hannah out of her thoughts, her fears and she is forced to return to the day. This never-ending contrast from day to night, quiet to intense is exhausting but exhilarating.
Graham’s choice to never personify or even fully conceptualise the reason behind Hannah’s fears only serves to exacerbate them. The presence of another actor would localise the source of Hannah’s demons, enable her and the audience to tackle them head-on. Instead, we are all left questioning, dragged along by the tech, the set, the high-pitched child-like voiceover. The latter in particular sends a chill down the spine; the loss of youth and innocence, naïve glee turned into something sinister and morbid. Whilst these effects serve to force the play through its story, they equally leave the travellers left in moments of absolute silence, “a silence that echoes”. That is until Norris’ other characters slice through the suffocating emptiness, the sharpest of scissors to cut the thread of life whilst it is still being spun.
Norris is a dedicated method actor. The emotion; the façade she paints on in her job as an air hostess; her robotic, dissociative state as she stares at herself in the mirror, staring but not quite seeing; all conveyed with skill and vibrancy. Sunglasses over her face in an attempt to disguise herself and hide; cling film that she wraps over the audience as it squeaks and grates – all are analogies that blur the lines between her mind and her reality. By the end there is a lack of clarity as to where the victim lies, an intentional question mark that encourages debate and leave its impression. Hannah bids goodbye to the audience and everyone is left looking over their shoulder, questioning whether they too are simply paranoid, or whether something is now lurking in the corner of their eye.
CUT is on until 31st July 2016. Click here for more information.