Ian has found his calling long ago in the role as professional hangman. His sole purpose is to become Britain’s Executioner Number One.
Following the death of his boss, the dream finally seems up for grabs. Given his lifelong never-faulting passion, years of experience and comradeship with his former superior, Ian is the obvious choice for Number One. However, the anticipated arrival of “the new guy” Dominic soon threatens Ian’s dear routine, methods and ambitions. Writer Toby Whithouse impressively performs his hour-long monologue in an old-fashioned setting of TV-sets, work desks, arm chairs and work lockers that could come straight from the 70s (designed by Andrew Purcell). The conviction and sincerity of the portrayal do testament to Whithouse’s acting talent. Ian’s utter belief in the laws, morals and principles of the country is what makes it a disturbing experience. He is a skilled liar, but he is even better at lying to himself. He needs it, too: after a while we glimpse how he can barely hold it together after all.
Dystopian the play may be, but on a small scale, and the programme reminding us that 58 countries still have the death penalty. People opposed to Brexit often feel suspicious of the new autonomy that the UK will have, and wonder which laws will be reinstated or gotten rid of. Suddenly, a world of fascism, including the ever-feared Thought Police, does not seem such a far away idea anymore.
“Executioner Number One” holds a mirror to the real-life contemporary Britain. The writing of “Executioner Number One” is slick, coherent, and frightening. It starts of a bit slower, meek, testing its waters with some jokes and leaving the audience guessing at how brutal it is going to get. The answer is: very. Before too long, the audience finds themselves in the deep black pit of Ian’s psychology and the broken society that gave birth to him. However, it firmly places itself in the tradition of similar works, such as 1984, the German Der Untertan, Brave New World, and many an unreliable narrator, without deviating on its own path too much. While the writing is solid, it is very much the performance that makes the play.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent