Review: Hangmen

Benjamin Lim 23 February 2019
Image Credit: Hangmen via Facebook

★★★★

Take another look around your college buttery (or slops… or trough… or caff…). It’s easy to underestimate the multitude of talents that lie around you – dramatic flair included. One of the best ways to uncover the hidden abilities of those with whom you share every-day life is through college stage productions. Downing’s Fresher play for 2019, Hangmen, is no exception, providing a showcase of high quality acting and direction in a more personal, relaxed setting than at the ADC.

Oldham, 1964: Harry, the local hangman, has been made recently redundant by the ‘end of hanging’ – but the shadows of his former profession have yet to leave him. The script, from acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh, drips with the consequences of man’s mortality and animal nature, but is still balanced with his signature, hugely entertaining, dark comedy. Faced with such a witty, deadpan script, the temptation of a lesser production would be to infuse every scene with non-stop energy. To their credit, the directing team behind Hangmen give the dialogue plenty of space, with long, heavy pauses drawing out the menace and humour to its full potential.

The blocking and set design are simple but effective, subtly directing attention to, and enhancing, the excellent performances of the cast. Matthew Paul and Philip Coxon, as hangman and accused, are entrusted with the moral core of the production. Each play a character desensitized to death in his own way, imbuing their performances with a humanity that brilliantly serves to enhance the sympathy or disgust of the audience. With an audience comprised of mostly fellow college members or friends, it is a testament to every member of the cast that they truly disappeared into their characters. We were entranced not just by seeing our friends on stage, but also by their characters and their stories. Each has their own moment to shine and shine they do, tugging on the heartstrings and hitting the funny bone to equal measure.

The friendly, intimate atmosphere of the Howard Theatre reflected the tone of the show; it was clear that every cast member relished in their time on stage. Aside from reinforcing my belief that the arts scene is one of Cambridge’s greatest strengths, productions like these are immensely inspiring, and remind us that truly anyone can get involved. Among the cast were a Lawyer, an Engineer and a VetMed – participating in drama is not only the pursuit of arts students! Both the direction and the performances demonstrate a sure-footed maturity far beyond their experience, resulting in a quality that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the main shows at the ADC. It is scarcely believable that such a wealth of talent could be found in one college, let alone just in First Year.

So, next time you tuck into brunch, don’t forget that in your midst may be the next Tom Hiddleston or Olivia Colman – or maybe that hidden aptitude could be within you. There are thousands of ways to get involved with the performing arts at Cambridge (both behind and on stage). Why not give it a try?