Sunday, 10 January 2016

'Hangmen' at Wyndham's Theatre

So, the first play of 2016 was the cheerily titled 'Hangmen' about the last hangmen in the UK in the early 1960s. What a joyful way to start the year you might think but, despite the subject matter (and content, to be honest) it was actually quite fun. It's a comedy, y'see, even though it's rather on the dark side. You won't necessarily get that from the poster of dangling feet advertising the show, but trust me, there are many laugh out loud moments and I laughed along with the sold out audience the other night.

It opens with one of the last hangings of a young man who everyone agrees is 'nice' but is to be hanged anyway. Fast forward to after the abolition of the death penalty and the hangman is now a pub landlord in Oldham (why Oldham? I've got no idea except it provides the opportunity for comedy accents). We meet the wife and daughter, the regular patrons including the local police inspector when a journalist appears to seek the hangman's views on the new law abolishing the death penalty.  What's to become of the country now that we can't legally kill people?

It's the early 60s and a trendy Londoner turns up with his southern Cockney ways and not long after the hangman's assistant appears. He'd been sacked earlier for mentioning the size of one of their clients' genitals when they were preparing him for burial - after that the word 'cock' was frequently mentioned and referred to in various ways (there's nothing like a cock joke to get the laughs). It gets darker when the hangman's teenage daughter goes missing - could the Cockney have anything to do with it? The hangman's rival for the title of 'last and greatest hangman' turns up because he's been slagged off in a newspaper article and clearly dominates the pub and stage, including getting everyone to (slowly) sniff his hair! The laughs keep coming and the Cockney is accidentally hanged (well, these things happen) and life goes on…

Despite it's rather grim subject matter it was actually great fun and characters change with the circumstances. David Morrisey was great fun as the domineering hangman brought to heel by his rival played by John Hodgkinson. I also liked Johnny Flynn as the Cockney interloper and Andy Nyman as the former assistant. I also liked the set and subtle lighting, moving from the prison cell for the first five minutes or so to the traditional old pub for the remainder of the show.

No comments: