When I speak to Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir, she’s just opened one of two shows she’s directing back-to-back at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. The first, Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything, was greeted with a round of positive reviews. The second, hang by Debbie Tucker Green, has its Scottish premiere at the end of this month. hang, a short, sharp shock of a play exploring the limits of justice, was originally set to open in 2020, and will finally hit the Tron stage at the end of the month.
Let’s talk about hang. Say I’m not familiar with debbie tucker green, and I don’t know the play. Could you give me an overview?
So there is a woman – she doesn’t get a name within the play. She’s referred to as ‘3’. She’s arrived to make a decision. And the decision is to be noted by two officers of this dystopian system, this organisation that we’re in – it’s not really spelled out what that is, but it’s within the legal system. There’s been a crime committed against 3, and she’s there to make a decision regarding her attacker.
We don’t know what the crime is, and we don’t know for the longest time what that decision is about. But we know that she’s deeply traumatised by what’s happened. And the system seems hellbent on re-traumatising her through its inability to be human. Even though they repeatedly tell her they want her to be comfortable, there’s nothing comfortable in this situation. And she can’t be, because of her trauma.
It was originally done at the Royal Court and debbie directed it herself. It’s never been staged in Scotland – in fact, none of her work has.
Yeah, it’s wild. The thing that really drew me to this text is its ability to go to the darkest corners of the human psyche, and still make you really laugh. It’s so uncomfortable, so wrong, so hard to watch; and it’s really, really funny. It’s a magnificent piece. It’s very short. It’s really tense. It’s really like a pressure cooker.
I saw some photos of other productions, and the casting – is that quite open-ended?
It is. 3, from the playwright’s point of view, is a Black woman. No discussion about that. The other two are more open. One of them is a woman, but in terms of the race and gender of the other, it’s open.
So why did you choose to go for two women?
Because I could. [Laughs.]
Great, great answer.
Yeah! Because I could. Because why not? There aren’t that many all-female plays – if you can, why not?
So, why did you choose this piece? What does it have to say to an audience right now?
It’s slightly changed. Because when I pitched it [in 2019] we weren’t as aware of the Black Lives Matter movement. The structural and systematic ways in which abuse and racism is perpetuated in society weren’t as obvious to a lower-middle-class white person like me. And that’s my own ignorance. So the context in which I viewed the play at first has shifted.
For me, it’s about injustice. Is justice achievable? Can there be repercussions for any crime that match the effects of that crime on the victim? That’s what I will be looking at. And what drives me to put this on – in Tory Britain, how are we treating people? Are our systems fit for people, or are they actually just fit for systems?
The show was originally intended to be staged in the Tron’s studio space. Has it changed now that it’s moved to the Main House?
I think we can push some of the ideas to be slightly bigger, physically. I’ve not directed for a big stage before, so that’s going to be a learning curve for me, to scale up. I’ve actually recently acquired a movement director to be looking at the physicality. Because of the pressure-cooker thing, instinctively you want it all to be really close. But how do we make a whole auditorium feel like that? That’s the challenge.
What’s your process like as a director?
Well, it depends on each piece. For hang it will be very character-heavy, very script-focussed. This particular script is written like a musical score. I actually had a chat with debbie tucker green about it. She directed it herself in 2015. I asked, director to director, what should I watch out for? Mainly, she said it looks easy on the page, but actually achieving the rhythms that are needed for this to be both tense and funny is hard. So I’ll be looking at that kind of dance and the music of it quite a lot. And she lovingly said, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ [Laughs.] Which I will take to heart.
hang will be performed at the Tron Theatre 28th April till 7th May 2022