Cut (The Vaults)

Hannah Norris performs Australian playwright Duncan Graham’s part installation, part noir thriller

© Gary Cockburn

Film is all about the edit; the art of the cut. We piece images together in our mind. Duncan Graham‘s noirish thriller, a favourite at various fringe festivals, brings the drop shot into the theatre. It’s a story told in fragments and frames. Again and again, it cuts to black: mid-scene, mid-sentence, mid-breath, mid-

Staged in a plastic room, white cling film stretched into walls, Graham’s play jumps between layers of reality. An air hostess, her brilliant white smile fixed into place, is panicking beneath the surface. One of her passengers, a man with ash grey eyes, is giving her the creeps. We flick between her salutary safety announcement and her inner-terror; the one, brightly lit; the other, ghostly green.

She’s haunted by visions: her own face in the mirror, its mouth distorted, nowhere near as perfect as she pleases, and by a woman in sunglasses wielding scissors, snip, snip, snipping at the air. These are sharp images and they snap out of the blackouts like stains on your retina. You never know where performer Hannah Norris will pop up next, nor in what guise. She, in turn, can’t keep tabs on her pursuer. The tension comes from those trips; the jumpcuts that interrupt a narrative thread. Just as you’re waiting for whatever comes next, Graham pulls the plug. There’s no settling into a story, no knowing what’s coming next, no sure sense of how these things fit together.

Too much of that uncertainty, however, comes down to confusion not ambiguity. Graham’s narrative gets lost in its own gaps, so that it’s not always clear or coherent. Its swirl of memories and hallucinations grows foggy, and in aiming for a classic pulp fiction tone, Graham’s text too often tips into the sort of naff pastiche where sleeping fliers are "a cargo of dreams."

The sensory overload staging piles it on a bit thick too, plunging us into pitch black then springing screeches out of the dark. It’s all a bit ‘ghost train’ to take seriously – too plastic to unsettle; too smooth to swallow. It’s all rather effortful and, as it winds itself up, rather too close to rape-and-revenge fantasy – certainly for something that protests its own feminism.

Cut runs at The Vaults until 31 July 2016.