The Cut

Silo Theatre, Auckland

10/10/2007 - 03/11/2007

Production Details


Guilt manifests itself, doesn’t it?

Paul has a secret he keeps from his family – as a state functionary he administers a violent and clinical procedure referred to as THE CUT.

In a society sickened by itself and where a new order looms, Paul longs to divulge his truth.

Mark Ravenhill creates a gripping black parable laced with wry humour and chilling veracity.

Give in to the future.

From the writer of SHOPPING & F***ING


Theatre ,

Round and round we go …

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 15th Oct 2007

The subject of political oppression has prompted several Auckland based theatre companies to choose works focusing on (amongst other things) brutal control (One for the Road, The Pillowman). Silo Theatre has chosen Mark Ravenhill’s The Cut, a dark piece set in an undefined bleak society, where most citizens appear broken, neurotic or desperately searching for a better reason to live. You know you’re in for a serious night at the theatre when, as you walk to your seat, you pass an actor hunched up against the wall next to the fire escape.

In this black parable there are three scenes, and in each the central protagonist, a government official called Paul (played by Frank Whitten), is the main voice box for Ravenhill’s thoughts on these familiar political themes.

In the first we learn Paul is in charge of administering a procedure resembling a lobotomy, called the cut. I’m still not sure if the cut is administered as punishment for a crime, or whether subjects are randomly chosen. What is clear is that the man in control is miserable and disillusioned, not only with the ground-swell for change, which will affect his work, but also with his personal life.

As Paul questions and prepares John (played by Jarod Rawiri) for the cut, he reveals his scant regard for the newly established political correctness and jargon such as ‘unnecessary brutality’ and employment based on positive discrimination. Yet kinks in the old system emerge as the subject confesses he wants the cut, describing it as ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’ and then, somewhat alarmingly, ‘nothingness’. The established order gets twisted again when the administrator reveals suicidal tendencies.

In the second scene, we head home. The clock ticks loudly, to fill the empty space between husband and wife. Whitten seems more relaxed and comfortable in the domestic environs, alongside his fellow Outrageous Fortune comrade, Robyn Malcolm. This complicated house wife, Susan, is a far cry from the self assured Cheryl West, and Malcolm delivers an excellent performance, capturing not only the rhythm of Ravenhill’s words, but the detachment of someone deep in denial and neurosis.

The juxtaposition of Susan dribbling on about pleasantries as her husband attempts to confront her about their lack of a sex life; her meaningless domestic existence; and finally – by stating in a flat monotone, ‘I love you’, over and over again – their complete failure to communicate, delivers some of Whitten’s best work. A significant letter is produced from their son, Stephen, the contents of which we know signals political change, as the clock’s steady tick-tock starts to distort and skip.

The final scene shoots forwards in time, as father and son confront one another about the value of the new order, which is now lead by (I assume) recent university graduate, Stephen (played by David Van Horn). Ravenhill makes some astute observations in this final scene, noting there are far more prisons in this new civilised society. It provokes thought on the nature of punishment: which is more humane, the swift justice of the cut, or a lifetime’s imprisonment, with the endless monotony of waiting every night for the light to snap off at the exact same time, until you die?

I’m not sure if it is director Jonathon Henry’s casting or Ravenhill’s stipulation, but the three low status characters are played by non-white actors, making a clear statement that racial inequality and oppression are alive and well in this bleak society.

Jonathon Henry’s direction is fairly static and occasionally too still. In particular, even though set designer Rachael Walker’s black operating slab cut into in three parts, atop a slow circular revolving plinth, is intriguing to watch at the top of the night, and even though the distant fan-like distorted drone courtesy of sound designer Chris O’Connor’s is appropriately unsettling, both devices are not enough to save the establishing scene from dragging.

Ravenhill’s use of repeated language, pause, expletives and threatening tone appear heavily influenced and by Harold Pinter.  Yet overall, The Cut doesn’t achieve Pinter’s lasting chilling intensity. On occasion, but no more so than during Paul’s "cunt, cunt, cunty cunt" speech, cursing feels gratuitous, there perhaps for shock value only.

Ravenhill’s dialogue depends on impeccable timing from the cast, but on occasion, the pace and flow of this production doesn’t achieve a natural rhythm. On the night I went interruptions were mistimed more than once.


While Whitten plays Paul as a tired, worn out soul, he has flashes of caustic brilliance, for example when he delivers Ravenhill’s jab at academic ‘word wanking’ by snapping, "I always suspected words… but you, you jump into bed with them and just start fucking." However, there are times when what Whitten may have intended as sinister, comes across as lacking in intensity.

The supporting cast do well. Rawiri’s heavy breathing and cry from the guts is affecting at the end of the first scene, Van Horn is convincing as the recently empowered yet agitated son, and Mia Blake does all that she can do with her two oppressed, downtrodden, silent characters.

But it is Robyn Malcolm, as Paul’s pill-popping wife Susan, who gives the stand out performance. Not only does she get on top of the language, she is engaging from start to finish, as she gives her character truth, depth and believability.

One of the positive aspects of such a wide and vague parable on the nature of authority is that each audience member is free to take what they want from the offering. Perhaps the answer lies in Walker’s revolving plinth: round and round we go; yet we end up in exactly the same place we started.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council