We don’t often see Antipodean theatre on the London fringe, but when we do, it’s certainly a bit different from British progressive performance. CUT, a cinematic, fragmented solo performance with elements of interactive theatre and immersive installation, effectively evokes a constant sense of unease but the range of styles and influences create a convoluted message. Technology is used effectively to maintain audience tension, with light and sound breaking up the narrative creating an extreme environment. But despite CUT‘s slickness and a fractured story that holds viewers’ focus, there is no clear reason why the story of an anonymous female flight attendant pursued by a male stranger is told. There is no predominant theme or message, just a story that, though it is told well, isn’t particularly dynamic or interesting.
Hannah Norris, an Australian actor based in London, is the only performer but the audience is a vital contributor to the piece so it’s easy to forget this is a solo performance. We are boarded onto a plane and accompany her throughout her shift and her subsequent journey home, with regular interruptions of nightmarish flashbacks, surreal characters, blackouts and loud noises. Norris’ character constantly narrates the journey, but it is never made clear what this episode from her life is meant to say. They man following her perhaps comments on male objectification of women, but it’s not particularly clear if this is an actual message of the piece – if that is the piece’s intention, it lacks conviction. The focus could just as easily be the possibilities of contemporary narrative structure influenced by pop culture and technology. The programme notes by writer/director Duncan Graham fail to elucidate despite an explanation of influences.
Regardless of the lack of clarity behind the piece, Norris is an excellent performer. She morphs and changes within the blackouts, always surprising and maintaining attention. Her timing and characterisation are impeccable within the often third-person text. Sam Hopkins and Russell Goldsmith’s design almost becomes characters within their prominence, but they do not overwhelm. The nerve wracking harmony between Norris, sound and light is exquisite.
With production elements that are much more impressive than the piece as a whole, CUT still has plenty of positives, but the story behind the suspense it creates is unsatisfying and anticlimactic. The narration and tech creates emotional distance, but perhaps the favouring of style over substance is too blunt for a British audience.
CUT runs through 31 July.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.