I’m embarrassed – but it’s necessary to open with a confession: Prior to my visit to Alphabetti Theatre last night to see the acclaimed ‘hang’ (lack of a capital letter isn’t an error), written by Debbie Tucker Green, I wasn’t aware of this amazing venue, doing superb work, right in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne. There are no excuses. I am sorry.
Described as the best kept secret in Newcastle, Alphabetti Theatre is an independent, intimate performance space, bar and second-hand bookshop, together with rehearsal space, a prop and costume workshop/store and artist studios. The space has a very welcoming and inclusive feel – together with a lovely dog, that last night was overseeing proceedings alongside Ali Pritchard, the driving force behind this creative venue.
Prior to the performance, Pritchard explained to the audience that Alphabetti believes great art should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Over 80% of the work they programme is part of a ‘Pay What You Feel’ scheme, meaning that audiences get to pay what they want, with the remaining 20% of events are all under £10.
The Alphabetti mission statement is inspirational: [The theatre] was not opened for business, money, or personal gain, but for the necessity of a fringe venue in Newcastle and the North East, ensuring the development and improvement of the ecology of the performing arts in the region. Based on the audience last night and the quality of the production, the team are bang-on-target to achieve their aims.
‘hang’ and writer Debbie Tucker Green, both have the most impressive pedigrees. The play was first performed in 2015 at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, where Tucker Green had staged previous works including truth and reconciliation, random and stoning mary. This run is the North East premiere and is directed by Yolanda Mercy, whose creative achievements and transferable skills could cause a meltdown on the LinkedIn platform.
Three actors brilliantly hold the audience in a state of permanent anxiety, as it isn’t clear for some time, the reason for their meeting in an austere, authoritarian space. Janine Leigh and Simmie Kaur expertly portray a pair of unnamed, authoritarian figures, whose brief only gradually becomes apparent. The duo channel something of the Keystone Cops, as they struggle to manage a situation that is clearly going to deal with the worst kind of painful.
Shereener Browne’s performance – as the ‘victim’ – is heartrending. While she and her family have obviously been shattered by whatever it is that has actually occurred, she pits her strength and determination against her own vulnerability and fear. Working in the small space of Alphabetti, Browne is able to cast out emotions into the audience, that wouldn’t be possible in a larger setting.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the purpose of this meeting, is to allow Browne’s character to decide how the person who has harmed her family is to be punished – more specifically – how they are to be executed.
The most uncomfortable section of the play comes as Kaur details the specifics of the different executional options. Ah…’hang’. The reason for the title of the play suddenly becomes just too clear.
Dealing with incompetence within authority, the horrendous fracturing of a family and the ethical question of whether revenge can ever be justified, ‘hang’ is a production that may well leave you exhausted, but certainly provides a compelling reason (if one is ever needed), to head to Newcastle this autumn.
‘hang’ is at Alphabetti Theatre Tuesday 28 September – Saturday 16 October