Like a lucid nightmare – that’s how writer-director Duncan Graham describes his one-woman psychological thriller Cut.
The 2015 Adelaide Fringe show features Hannah Norris (from previous Fringe hit My Name is Rachel Corrie) as a tormented air hostess and will be presented before nightly audiences of just 18 in an intimate, immersive theatre setting.
Here, Norris and Graham discuss the production and tell us just how scared we should be.
Cut is described as a tense psychological thriller – tell us a bit about the story and your role.
Hannah Norris: A woman wakes at 5am to start her day, preparing herself in front of a mirror. She is an air hostess and a man has been following her. She sees him everywhere. Through memories, imaginings, her daily routine, interrupted moments and blackouts, her story unfolds – a story of terror, threat, emergency, catastrophe, violence.
But how blurred her reality and fantasy is ends up being for the audience to decide. And I’ll be doing all that! I’m playing the woman.
Anita Hegh performed this play at Belvoir in 2011 – I think she is a brilliant actress, and saw her in a one-woman show The Yellow Wallpaper in Melbourne in 2006. I remember it so clearly and it was very inspiring to me – so I’m actually glad I never saw the Sydney season, so I can’t be too influenced by how she brought the story to life with Adelaide director Sarah John.
You’re working with playwright Duncan Graham, who I understand you met when you were both students in Adelaide in 1999. What was it about his script for Cut that particularly appealed to you?
HN: As soon as I’d heard he (Graham) had written a one-woman show almost five years ago, I knew I wanted to read it as soon as possible. I had no idea what it was about but was excited by the prospect.
I am moved to tears every time I read the script, and knew from the first time I read it that I would really enjoy getting inside the skin and mind of this damaged, dangerous woman. It’s a very powerful and confronting work.
Duncan is so intelligent that I’ve found the complexity and layers of the script challenging (something I relish), so it’s unbelievably rewarding to be working with him as my director as well. I have so many talented friends and I want to support the work they are creating – and hopefully do them justice by producing and performing (which I am doing with Cut).
I produced for the first time for the 2013 Adelaide Fringe with Tahli Corin’s One for the Ugly Girls, which enjoyed a sell-out run and won Adelaide Critics’ Circle and Fringe awards. So I’m hoping the response to Cut is as good, although they are very different plays.
Many Adelaide Fringe-goers will remember you from your award-winning performance in My Name is Rachel Corrie, where you played a young American activist run over by a bulldozer in the Gaza strip. One thing the two shows have in common is that they are both single-handers – what challenges does that create for you as the performer?
HN: My Name is Rachel Corrie was the first solo production I had performed, and I found the dynamic of my relationships with the audience and the technical aspects of the show very interesting. When you don’t have other actors on stage with you, that’s all you have, and they consequently take on deeper and more fascinating levels of importance.
The text, audience, lights, sound and design are all you have to engage with in a solo performance, which is why we have taken this production of Cut even further in exploring these relationships. Firstly with the intimacy of the room, which can only fit an audience of 18 – I honestly think that at any one time I’ll be able to reach out and touch almost half of them! And then Sam Hopkins, our lighting designer and tech wizard, is designing a “play machine” which will enable me to operate all the sound, lighting and audio visuals.
I was instrumental in thinking up and developing these ideas, but the closer I get to performance, the more scared I get. It’s going to be as scary and “in-yer-face” for me as it is for the audience. We can all be vulnerable and confronted together!
Cut is being presented at the Adelaide Fringe in Holden Street’s Manse Theatre, which seats just 18 people. How will such an intimate setting affect the audience experience?
Duncan Graham: The audience will be brought into the personal space of the performer, which will make the psychological journey into the character’s mind all the more immediate and chilling. Without giving too much away, the work operates almost like a lucid nightmare.
The work played first at Belvoir (in Sydney) in the downstairs theatre. That seated 90. We are taking the work one step closer to the audience in this production. It’s an experiment in intimacy and how we form and understand our identity. To be in the same room as a woman who is excavating her mind while she is also involved in a terrifying event could be really thrilling. How close is too close? I don’t know…
We’re also told the Manse will be transformed with an “immersive, installation-style design” – what will that entail?
DG: I really don’t want to give too much away in this regard, because that’s one of the joys of theatre, especially in the Fringe. There are so many jewels to discover. You don’t know what they’re going to look like, or contain, but you get an unforgettable experience. The Manse is just a room, six by four. You are entering into the personal space of the performer at this point. It’s going to be very small and beautiful and transformative.
So should audiences be afraid … very afraid?
DG: I don’t know if they should be, like Red Riding Hood, very, very afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.
Hannah is a wonderful performer and I’m very excited about the way she’ll get hold of this difficult but poetic text. I think there’s nothing so thrilling as being invited into the most intimate and perhaps complex parts of a person’s mind – this, to me, is one of the great joys of the theatre. It’s still a place where the most demanding aspects of our lives are able to be freely explored. It’s like the world and its presumptions and prejudices can be sealed off, and you can look at the world with fresh eyes again. This is particularly so with this text.
There are definitely terrifying moments in the work, that will put an audience on the edge of their seat. But I think audiences have such a broad palate, by way of film and the advance of great television. This production will prove something of a rare ticket, I hope; the sort of thing that people will say, ‘Yeah, I got a ticket to that … or I totally tried to.’
We want it to connect with an audience in a very intimate way. Hannah will be etched into your mind forever, which is not a bad thing, she’s really great.
Cut, by Duncan Graham, will be performed at Holden Street Theatres from February 10 until March 14 as part of the 2015 Adelaide Fringe.