Iris (a youthful Ashleigh Cummings) is a 14-year-old girl who has recently escaped from boarding school with her two best friends; they were reported missing. She has turned up 48 hours later at a police station while her friends remain missing. Detective Sergeant Flint (a kind Luke Carroll) is set to interview Iris in the presence of her nominated guardian, Ms Corrossi (a severe yet comical Genevieve Lemon), her lonely and stern English teacher. Set predominately in one room, in real time, The Hanging delves into the fixation with young girls that haunts Australian society, the perennial concerns that shape young women, and the damage that all women are learning, and struggling, to cope with every day.
Angela Betzien has written characters who are complex, broken, and ultimately fascinating. Carroll’s Sergeant Flint is concerned and gentle, desperately trying to save the missing girls, and balancing his paternal instinct to care for Iris with his driving need for justice. Lemon’s Ms Corrossi masks her isolation and need for love with a reproachful attitude and Lemon nurtures the nuances within Carrosi’s brash character; underneath her bitter and defensive exterior she is harbouring a deep concern for the girls she teaches, yearning to liberate them from the snares of society.
Cummings is compelling as the hurting and fraught but manipulative Iris. Cummings’ naiveté and innocence earns the audience’s pity and her desperate pain earns their sympathy, despite her attempts to disguise it all with light-heartedness and mischief.
In the course of 90 minutes, Betzien’s play, shaped here by Sarah Goodes perceptive and harrowing direction skilfully probes to the heart of so many issues plaguing our society. Betzein’s discussion of mental illness, eating disorders and abuse are all so well handled – even if only dealt with in passing their presence is keenly felt.
To a greater extent, The Hanging untangles the way society deals with adolescents – the way young women are entrapped by societal expectations and its collective fascination with the mystery of the beautiful, lost young girl. But Betzien doesn’t merely examine adolescence and its challenges; she captures a particularly essential human experience, where each character, like virtually every person alive, is attempting to hide their flaws from each other – while recognising the brokenness they see around them reflected in themselves.
Betzien’s deep and insightful script, along with Goodes’ harrowing direction, not only explores these concepts but manages to do so while telling a thrilling and captivating story that engages the audience throughout.
Elizabeth Gadsby’s design – a blank wall diving the space into a mostly empty study and a vast expanse used for stunning video projections of the Australian bush (David Bergman), is an effective and stunning design to bring together the quiet house, and the endless expanse and mystery of nature. Complimented well by the evocative lighting design (Nicholas Rayment) and haunting sound design (Steve Francis), the set effectively encapsulates the tense and thrilling atmosphere of the play.
The Hanging is intriguing and captivating in unravelling the mystery of Iris and her missing friends, but more importantly it’s a poignant unravelling of the mysteries of Australian society. It gives a voice to young women.