Sir Ian McKellen is back in the West End hot on the heels of receiving the Special Award at this year’s Laurence Olivier Awards last Sunday. In Mark Ravenhill’s new play The Cut, which is being staged at the Donmar Warehouse, McKellen plays Paul, a man who administers the cut of the title, a procedure which not everyone in Ravenhill’s alternative world agrees with. Matthew Amer attended the first night…
Paul’s office is not the comfy room one would associate with today’s doctors, though the cut is clearly a medical procedure. There is no selection of magazines, no television, no posters. Instead there is just a ridiculously tidy desk and an operating table that would not seem out of place in a horror movie – dark, metallic, lonely and with a UFO-like light hovering over it ominously.
The bureaucracy has not been removed from this new world. When Paul meets his first ‘patient’, Jimmy Akingbola’s John, he has a questionnaire to fill in about the security search’s use of unnecessary brutality. McKellen’s Paul spends a lot of time over this, possibly because he does not like his job one bit. The administration of some kind of lobotomy – we never find out exactly what the cut is, or even why it is administered – haunts Paul’s every moment, yet John is desperate to have it done; he wants to experience the freedom is gives.
McKellen’s grey-clad Paul has a grey-clad wife in the shape of Deborah Findlay’s Susan, a woman who has to lie down after instructing the maid and has just discovered the joy of shopping for herself. She is not an entirely likeable character, living in a bubble with no real pressure, but inventing stress for herself. Though she does not admit to knowing what Paul does, their marriage, described by both as ‘comfortable’, is clearly a series of tense encounters. An entire meal eaten in fabulously electric silence is tantamount to that.
There is, as with every contentious practice, an uprising against the cut, led by a group including Paul’s son, but the world in which they live seems to thrive on the emotional numbness that can be achieved with or without the brutal practice. Susan takes pills and tries to feed Paul every time he gets tetchy. Their maid Gita survives in a state where she has to be told exactly what to do. Paul’s assistant cannot hear what he says, nor speak.
The one person who actively feels emotion is Paul, tormented by his job and his life. McKellen spends 99% of the play’s 90 minutes on stage, expressing Paul’s inward and outward turmoil, and proving why he is so highly regarded as a stage performer. But even Paul seeks release in the form of a loaded pistol.
The Cut is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 1 April.