Review: ‘Noose’

Noose is something of a reviewer’s nightmare, as the entire drama rests on the (excellent) plot twist as the curtain falls. It’s almost impossible to give a proper opinion without significant spoilers. A new play by Anthony Maskell, it revolves around a couple’s final day together as one of them prepares to commit suicide. They’re interrupted by a blind pilgrim, whose presence begins to unravel their plan. Throughout, there’s a sense that you’re missing something, there’s something not quite right. And it suddenly makes sense as the play ends, and the audience is placed in the uncomfortable position of realising that they have fallen prey to the play’s premise — really, we don’t know people like we think we do. We see and hear what we want to and assume is correct, and in the process misunderstand ourselves as much as we do others.

The drama plays out in an Unknown Hinterland. Costumes, setting, and language are ambiguous, placing it chronologically and geographically both nowhere and anywhere. In the same way, the (young? old?) couple Jacques (Ali Porteous) and Seraphim (Misha Pinnington), occupy a double-sided position. In many ways they’re both completely relatable — like any couple who has been together a while, they know exactly how to wind the other up, and Seraphim in particular takes delight in surreptitiously goading her partner. On the other hand, they’re decidedly inhuman. What kind of couple stands around talking dispassionately as one of them prepares to hang themselves? The shadow of Samuel Beckett looms large over these scenes — Maskell’s script is quite literally full of gallows humour.

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Ali Porteous & Misha Pinnington © Anthony Maskell

The best of Maskell’s script lies in this multiplicitousness. He doesn’t offer any answers, and in some respects the whole point of the play is its ambiguity. I loved the inconclusive ending, leaving you hanging. But this is also its greatest weakness. There were so many unresolved threads firing off in different directions that it sometimes crossed the border from thought-provoking to intellectually cluttered. Why was the couple’s baby a radio? I assume this had something to do with the theme of genetic imperfection and the role of technology that ran throughout the play — it begins with a radio broadcast talking about the ‘perversities of our generation’, and both Seraphim and the pilgrim repeat the mantra that ‘the boy follows the man’, asking just how much of our personality we inherit. But there wasn’t quite enough in the script to be able to fully form a question about this, beyond merely noting it as an idea that crops up. This was at least in part due to the fact that it was competing for space with a whole host of other ideas. Does language hinder how we communicate with others? As Jaques does with his books, do we build a scaffold for ourselves by trying to know too much? What role does religion play in a secular age? Maskell gives no answers to these — and in a way I wouldn’t have wanted him to try. Plays that do all your thinking for you are always frustrating. But more fully formed questions might have given the play more direction, and kept me thinking for longer after exiting the theatre.

The relationship between the Jacques and Seraphim was deliciously awkward. They say that ‘We each know the other so we don’t have to know ourselves’, but they come across as completely self-obsessed, always framing the other in relationship to their concerns. Their dialogue was a little jarring at times — possibly deliberately — but their interaction became more fluid as the actors warmed up. The stand-out performance came from Josh Dolphin as the blind pilgrim, his pious demeanour underlaid by something far more sinister. James Stoke’s lighting design was deceptively simple, always ensuring that the noose at the centre of the stage was the focus of attention. Particularly effective was the moment where the blind man and Jacques are left on the stage, and they are plunged into darkness as the pilgrim finally reveals his decidedly ungodly intentions.

Noose is an unpolished play, but some of its greatest assets lie in its roughness. Yes, it could use a little refining and fine-tuning, but Maskell is bold in his ideas, and how he goes about presenting them. It’s absurd in places and uncomfortable in others, and worth seeing for the last few minutes alone. It’s a wonderful, last-minute, but carefully planned question about what we think we’ve seen over the course of the play, and what people will do for love.

Leah Broad

‘Noose’ runs at the Burton Taylor Studio until the 6th February. For more information and to book tickets, please visit Koma Kino’s Facebook page.

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