CUT is part installation, part theatre poem, part noir thriller. The audience will be sealed in an atmospheric Vault under the Waterloo railway arches and will be transported deep into the heart of 21st century fears - the psychological equivalent of extreme turbulence. The show is set against a black backdrop with unsettling moments of complete darkness, prepare to be sealed into this intimateand unforgettable experience. We caught up with actress Hannah Norris to talk about the new project and the attraction of a one woman show.
What can audiences expect from CUT?
A sensory, theatrical experience where you are close to the action and close to the ideas. You watch the play from inside the world. It is immersive but not in the large-scale way of other shows at The Vaults like Goosebumps or Alice's Adventures Underground - it's quite an empty and imaginary space that gets filled with sound, light, thoughts and action. Escalating tension and darkness and a poetic text that may provoke more questions than it answers.
What was it about this project that appealed to you so much?
I wanted to inhabit this piece and bring together the artists who have created our production. I wanted to bring the work of all of them to London. The moment I expressed interest in CUT about 4 or 5 years ago, Duncan gave me his permission to perform it. I then saved up money on a national Australian tour of a mainstream traditional theatre comedy and brought the team together for our first season at the 2015 Adelaide Fringe Festival. And it was a huge hit.
This is written by award winning playwright Duncan Graham, so what was it about the script you loved so much?
Duncan and I have been friends for about 15 years - I met him when I was at acting school with his younger brother and Duncan was studying medicine at the time (he dropped out to become a playwright). When I found out he had written a play for one woman, I immediately wanted to read it - and on first read, I cried. The theatre of it was so vivid to me - the rhythm and the pauses, the leaps between scenes, the stage directions of blackouts and gasps, the inherent violence - and that it all comes from one woman. It resembles the work of playwrights I love like Sarah Kane and Simon Stephens, and is inspired by the women of Greek theatre and mythology - Clytemnestra, Medea, Atropos - women vengeful and passionate.
How did you prepare for your role as both victim and predator?
In a few ways. Firstly, I'm a woman. Whenever I walk alone at night, I prepare. When I hold my keys between my fingers, ready to punch someone in the eye if I have to. When walking at night I pretend to talk on the phone, or hold my thumb over a number ready to dial if I have to. When I think about what I'd do to someone who might try to hurt me. When I read about women who are raped or murdered or experience domestic violence or abuse and I refuse to be stopped from living my life freely, when I reject victim blaming, I prepare. Must we live in a society governed by fear?
Also, the text switches tense quite a lot between "I", "She" and "you". Intellectually, I tried to work out what the changes meant and how to approach them, but it wasn't until we were in rehearsals that I felt those changes physiologically through speaking the text in the action of the play that it started to make sense to me.
And then, a good friend of mine is a psychologist and he suggested I start noticing all the tiny moments throughout my days that I might have unpleasant or violent thoughts - things I would never act on, but to notice them. And I did. For example, when people are standing on the wrong side of the tube escalators...
Why does this production make audiences so uncomfortable?
They are in close proximity to the performer (me) who does experience and explore moments of panic, threat, danger, violence. The technical aspects of the show are also very atmospheric and effective in eliciting feelings from the audience. While having a clear through line, there is a disjointedness to the storytelling which makes it unpredictable moment to moment. And the fact that they cannot leave without assistance. Before we started rehearsals, I talked about wanting to create the feeling when you get on an aeroplane and the doors close and you know you are in for the ride, hopefully to land safe on the other side - that is sort of what it's like when we start this show.
What has the atmosphere been like during rehearsals?
We are about to start re-rehearsal in London, but in Australia, Duncan and I would spend at least an hour talking about politics, eating ginger nut biscuits. I'd then pick up one of the props we had in the room and start playing with it while we talked and would unintentionally do something that made Dunc stop and say, "That was interesting, what was that?" - I'd do and/or say it again, and suddenly we'd be up on our feet and into a moment of the play. We spend an intensive amount of time just the two of us, getting imaginative and playful with the text, and really exploring moments and possibilities. We were worried the first time we had others from the creative team in the room with us that we had created a very bizarre piece of performance art, but it turned out we were on track, and once all the tech starts building in, it's really exciting.
This isn't your first one-woman show, so what appeals to you so much about this genre of theatre?
Essentially and un-inspiringly because it's the most affordable to produce. However, with CUT particularly I was interested in my relationship to the technical aspects of the show. In the previous one-woman show I'd done, I was hyper aware of the lights, set and sound - as they are my only onstage partners, so if something was a bit late or off, it disrupted the rhythm of the piece. This is what led Sam Hopkins to invent a wireless device and bespoke lighting system that I operate in performance. It's a truly innovative control and takes rehearsal to make second nature, but its brilliant. I absolutely adore working with other actors, and I'm looking forward to my next play with other people in it. But I also love the responsibility, focus and commitment CUT demands. It's a challenge and a thrill.
What is next for you?
I've just moved to London, so looking forward to meeting more of the UK industry and audiences here through our London season of CUT, and straight after we finish at The Vaults, we pack up and head off to Edinburgh for a return season at the fringe. Duncan and I have a few other ideas for projects we are keen to create together, and there may also be international opportunities for CUT in Australia and elsewhere.