I read an article once which gave a rundown – nay, a gallery, of last meal choices from death row. It was brilliant. It was food porn. It was deeply inappropriate to enjoy the article. And this is my confession,
I do often think about what gastronomic decision I’d make on death row. I’m not planning on committing heinous crimes in certain states of America, but I like to be prepared.
I’m lucky enough to try a lot of amazing food in and around Manchester. And some may find this unimaginative. But would be a pasta toss between macaroni cheese and spaghetti carbonara.
It just is and it’s my last meal so…
Anyway, this is thankfully the only similarity between myself and the central character in the play Hanging, brought to us this week by company Tangled Theatre as shown at The Whiskey Jar, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe.
He too wanted carbonara as his last meal. And I grinned way too inanely at this declaration in the narrative, stopping short of an air punch at the discovery of my death row last meal soulmate.
Hanging was the tale of ‘a man’ (Brandon Mccaffrey) who is to be hung for a crime not described, and in his last hours visited by family members – his father (Rory Greenwood), wife (Agnes Houghton-Boyle) and Grandad (Lee Martyn).
Are these visitations and even whole scenario metaphorical, fanciful, or even literal – who knows? We’re even treated (and it really is a treat) to the marvellous interplay between the two ‘executioners’, depicted in a fancy dress-stylee as the devil (Jasmine Oates) and the grim reaper, death itself (again – Lee Martyn). Again, it is unclear as to whether their costumes are metaphorical or literal and that is just fine – I enjoy being given the autonomy to decide and decipher what may or may not be symbolic.
Whilst a prescriptive production can take the weight off the mind, so to speak, it doesn’t engage quite as well and stay with the audience as much after the lights have gone back up.
And speaking of light and shade, the location in the wonderful basement space in The Whiskey Jar,couldn’t have been more perfect.
When you’re seated in an open bricked, open piped, deep dark cellar, all you really do need is a couple of chairs, a range of nooses – or should that be niice?? – and you’re set.
Written and directed by Marco W. Biasioli, it takes nothing away from this imaginative, sometimes highly-charged and upsetting, sometimes wildly comedic but always entertaining 90 minute production, that there are clear and sometimes literal nods to black comedies such as ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘Shallow Grave’.
As we were walking in, taking our seats, shuffling around, switching off phones, the ‘man’ (Mccaffrey) was already on stage, sometimes seated, sometimes checking out the noose for size…
This is the second time this week I’ve been to the theatre where you are immediately immersed into the scene. This greater freedom to connect with audiences is just one of the beauties of fringe and ‘smaller-scale’ theatre – there’s an intimacy and greater connection for all present.
(Credit: Tangled Theatre)
The small company of five gel well together and don’t miss a beat throughout straight run-through scenes.
Rory Greenwood injects an impressive dose of discomfort into proceedings, as the aggressive and drunken patriarch. His jaded ramblings and actions trick the senses into seeing a man much older than the son he’s berating, even though I guess there’s not much difference in ages between the two actors.
Lee Martyn is delightful as both ‘death’ and the ‘grandad’, whipping off his hooded cloak and stooping low as the latter, vulnerable yet comical in his hospital nightdress and brandishing his crutch- clearly unclear as to the time of day or night or even decade he’s inhabiting.
Agnes Houghton-Boyle as the ‘man’s’ estranged wife, is bold, bolshy, swaggering and insanely abhorrent – she’s basically great. Taunting her husband emotionally and physically, we’re both appalled and entranced – and that’s before we know the reason for their separation.
The family members take it in turns to pile on the misery, woe, anger and hurt to the condemned man, Brandon Mccaffrey, who gives a controlled and impressive performance, his emotions pulled every which way by each visiting party with no let-up – his character the constant on stage. Even Rory Greenwood doubling up as another unnamed convict gets respite with a bag placed over his head at regular intervals.
And so as the condemned ‘man’s’ life (and indeed production) approaches its close, I’m again reminded of such cinematic scenarios a’la ‘The Last Supper’ or oldie but goodie ‘All About Eve’, and the classic dinner party set-up, overseen and essentially directed by Jasmine Oates’s wonderfully smirking ‘devil – meets mentor – meets mean girl – meets matriarch’ of proceedings…
Lentil soup anyone?
And I have to say with family like that, who needs executioners?
Me? I’d be running for the gallows.
Another triumph for fringe theatre and one for all of us who are lucky enough to have such talent on our doorsteps.
I’m off to whip up some pasta, eggs and bacon.