Ian McKellen in The Cut
Where: West End
1 March 2006 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Is there currently a more versatile or compelling actor on the London stage than Ian McKellen? Straight from the exuberant, over-the-top, cross-dressing camp of his panto dame turn as Widow Twanky in the return of Aladdin at the Old Vic, he now segues directly to a far more sober, sinister mode in , The Cut Mark Ravenhill’s bleak (and rather oblique) new play at the Donmar Warehouse.
Two nights before the opening of this production, McKellen deservedly took this year’s Laurence Olivier special award for lifetime achievement, and was presented with it by the director of this production
Michael Grandage, who said that during rehearsals the actor became affectionately dubbed “the king of logic”, since he “cannot proceed until everything has been logically and truthfully worked through.”
Rehearsals can only have been a slow and painful process in that case, since Ravenhill’s play is full of questions but few answers. Like a Pinter puzzle that has an air of Pinteresque menace looming large, it is torture to watch in every sense. Quite what the point of the procedure that McKellen’s character administers is (cryptically called The Cut), how exactly it is administered and why, isn’t clear even after we’ve seen it happen. Is this, like
The Exonerated, an anti-capital punishment, or at least anti-torture, polemic? Or a fetishization of those proceedings (since the “victim” actually seems to crave the punishment)? Or is it a wider parable of the effects of his job on the torturer, since he is clearly unwilling to exercise it and is haunted by the bad memories of what he does?
All of this beats me; but Grandage, directing not only his first new play for the Donmar but also (as far as I could tell from his programme credits) his first new play anywhere, isn’t as defeated as I am. His production pulses with the kind of brooding atmosphere that he has brought to bear on far more substantial plays, including the stunning production of Ibsen’s
The Wild Duck that immediately preceded this and recently won him the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Director.
He has also been magnificently served by the tour-de-force of McKellen’s performance (that will be forced to tour after its season here, taking the Donmar on the road), as we follow him across a trio of encounters: first with prisoner John (
Jimmy Akingbola), then wife Susan (the always-splendid Deborah Findlay) and finally son Stephen ( Tom Burke). They do their best to make something mesmerising out of a play that keeps putting its own meaning frustratingly out of reach.
- Mark Shenton
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