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A CurtainUp London Review
The Hanging Man
Edward Braff (Richard Katz) is a young architect who, pressured to repeat an earlier triumph, hangs himself in his half finished cathderal. But Death (Lisa Hammond) refuses to claim him saying she won't let herself be "used" like that without having got to know the person first. Death refuses to do her job until Braff changes his mind about suicide and we quickly see how strange a world without mortality is.
Improbable Theatre really know how to put on a show and in the course of the evening they deploy an arsenal of techniques. There are songs and dancing, slapstick comedy, masks plus the feats of stagecraft for which Improbable are renowned. Richard Katz spends almost the whole show suspended from a noose which he uses to bound around the stage while Death appears from under it before floating high into the rafters. The trouble is some of these effects feel completely gratuitous, particularly one song and the ultra fashionable "Verbatim Theatre" section, and break the momentum of the night. The cast often drop out of character to talk about the devising process which, although entertaining, feels like filler material. This got in the way of my suspension of disbelief and felt as if a magician had showed you how his tricks worked when you were happier not knowing.
Whatever the inconsistencies in tone, the company tear into the piece with such zest that, for the most part, you can't help but be swept along with them. Richard Katz is hilarious on the end of the noose and makes Braff's inability to die a delight to watch. By capturing the tone of a mistreated lover, Lisa Hammond makes Death herself seem human and strangely sympathetic. The rest of the cast are excellent in the assortment of other roles but special mention must go to Catherine Marmier whose exasperated general almost steals the show.
Improbable's whole creative team collaborated on the set and it is sublime. Braff's half finished cathedral is beautifully realised under the Lyric's ornate proscenium. Its beams, stairs and view over an Italian town combine function with elegance and give Improbable's acrobatic cast much to play on.
The evening certainly is a lot of fun even though from such a promising start they seem to run out of steam. Devised pieces like this are always entertaining but they are prone to lose focus if not tightly controlled. Shockheaded Peter, their last production, under whose shadow they labour, was more consistent in this respect and freer of fat. But The Hanging Man is still a unique kind of theatre and at its best creates that special feel you had as a child when hearing a fairy tale . LINK
Shockheaded Peter (DC review ). . . Shockheaded Peter (NY review)
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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