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The Cut at The Lowry

Mark Ravenhill’s new play, which premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in February and is now touring the UK, is a powerful, cynical and dark exploration of power, guilt, and the nature of man and society...

Published on April 7th 2006.


The Cut at The Lowry

Mark Ravenhill’s new play, which premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in February and is now touring the UK, is a powerful, cynical and dark exploration of power, guilt, and the nature of man and society.

Best known for his triumphant Shopping and Fucking, Ravenhill in The Cut presents us with a sinister dystopian world where Ian McKellen plays Paul, a civil servant whose job it is to administer The Cut to the non ruling classes.

While Ravenhill never actually discloses the true nature of The Cut, we understand that it is a violent procedure, and its symbolic significance is ripe with allusions to religion, power, punishment and repression.

At only an hour and a half this is play is small but perfectly formed, with no interval ensuring that the momentum is maintained throughout. The play is divided into three scenes separated by fluid set changes that are accompanied by Adam Cork’s poignant and ominous musical score. The first scene depicts McKellen’s office where he is due to administer The Cut to an ambiguous young man called John, played with great passion and energy by Jimmy Akingbola.

Sir Ian moves and astounds with his honest and powerful portrayal of Paul, as he attempts to hide and separate himself from the reality of his occupation behind a desk full of paperwork and bureaucracy, but cannot block out the mental suffering and anguish that his daily duties cause to him.

Paul’s prim wife Susan, magnificently played by Deborah Findlay, appears in the second scene as we follow Paul home from the cold sterility of his office to the warm domesticity of his home, where, just as Paul surrounds himself with bureaucracy, Susan blocks out the reality that she suspects by surrounding herself with soft furnishings and domestic trivialities.

Emotional barriers are reflected in the sparse set by items of furniture, as Paul retreats behind his desk in his office to separate himself from the prospect of the job at hand, and in the second phenomenal scene Paul and Susan sit at opposite ends of a long dining table across which Paul desperately tries to reach out emotionally to his wife, but in vain.

In the third and final scene, McKellen sits in a dingy prison cell where he is visited by his son Stephen, played by Tom Burke. Although located inside a prison, in this scene we witness the most emotional freedom of the play, as barriers are broken down between Paul and his son, a radical thinker of the new reform.

In the final scene a new social order is in place, and Paul has been jailed for his participation in The Cut under the previous government. This scene questions the true nature of right and wrong, revealing (as does the play in its entirety) that the values of society are often in contention with a person’s moral sense of right and wrong. McKellen in this scene bears a strong resemblance to a fallen Nazi officer, jailed after the war for crimes against humanity which were allowed by law at the time of the offence.

The play questions how far a person is defined by their actions, and whether evil acts constitute an evil person. Stephen calls his father evil, although Paul tries his best to convince his victim and his wife to the contrary, despite his actions.

The play ends on an unfinished and somewhat cynical note, as Ravenhill hints that Stephen’s youth and idealism will disappear into the system as his father’s did before him, and that history come in circles, with the “crimes” of our ancestors constantly being forgotten and recommitted by subsequent generations. The Cut suggests that the continuation of society depends upon the dominance of a ruling class and the repression of others, by whatever means chosen by any given society.

While Paul’s regime may not use any “unnecessary brutality”, they still essentially do the same thing as “those before”, dress it up how you will (just as Paul hides the flavour of his meal with copious amounts of salt). And while the new regime in place at the end of the play points to a more hopeful future, Paul assures his son that the idealism will not last long.

The Cut grips you. You walk out of the theatre on another plane, slightly unsettled, feeling as though something has just happened, but you aren’t sure what. It questions individual and collective guilt, and explores the way in which the void between what we know to be right and wrong is bridged by the lies which we tell ourselves. Another triumph for The Donmar – go and see it.

Jayne Robinson
Email Me Now!

The Cut is at The Lowry until 8th April 2006
Box Office 0870 7875793

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