The Hanging Man

The Hanging Man

It must be awfully embarrassing to hang yourself and then be discovered there the next morning exposed, alive and swinging in the breeze. What would you say to those faces looking up at you, failing at failure?

In this wacky and engaging show from Britain, The Hanging Man is a successful architect who tries to kill himself when faced with the possibility that his next project could be a failure.

He hangs there the whole show. Death -“ played here by a bolshie female dwarf in a suit -“ has rejected him, tired of him and everyone else taking her favours and timing for granted.

The result, for a while, is a world without death -“ and a breakout of bad jokes about dying, now that everybody is finally free to talk about death.

This ensemble, called Improbable, has its own challenge with success and failure. They have had 10 years of successful shows and yet their theatre-making is to improvise their material right into performance and always take new risks of failure.

Improbable’s story of this architect and his half-completed cathedral is vaguely medieval in setting. It’s full of improvisation, masks, quick costume changes and the magic of smoke and trapdoor entrances.

But in the style of the better-known British company, Theatre de Complicite, the actors are always just that, story-tellers talking directly to the audience and winking at modern ironies.

So as the architect hangs, the cast finds insane reasons to leap into a disco routine, and then a scene of Napoleonic generals frustrated at the futility of war because nobody now gets to die.

This leaping between high and low culture, between modernity and a medieval morality tale, delivers an entertaining and physically raucous show of surprises.

In the end the architect yearns again for life and in loving life also loves the part of it which is Death. Then and only then does Death take him.

It is a much-travelled show still fresh with comic anarchy. Indeed perhaps it has accumulated just too many mad tangents. The narrative gets stretched too much and too many promising moments of perception about life and death are thrown to the wind.

But it is a fun and haunting theatrical experience and a credit to the Sydney Opera House’s series, Adventures in the Dark, bringing us adventurous performances of the type we usually only expect at festival time.

The Hanging Man is at the Drama Theatre until 3 June.

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