Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 4th March 2006

The Cut / The Exonerated / Steptoe & Son

There's a scene in The Cut, a new play by Mark Ravenhill, that is so dull I came within a whisker of walking out. It occurs about halfway through and involves two actors--Ian McKellen and Deborah Findlay--sitting opposite each other at a dinner table and eating their supper. From the moment they begin, to the moment they clear their plates, they exchange just one line. Dramatically, it's about as exciting as standing outside a restaurant with your nose pressed to the window. After five minutes had elapsed, I began to wonder whether The Cut was going to continue in this vein indefinitely. Was this a brilliant piece of satire designed to demonstrate just how credulous the metropolitan elite can be when it comes to serious drama? How long would the audience remain in their seats? Alas, I was too cowardly to leap to my feet. The best I could manage was to turn to my companion and whisper that in the next scene, if we were lucky, we might get to watch paint dry.

The Cut is so staggeringly bad, it's almost entertaining. Almost. McKellen plays the faceless official of an unnamed country whose job consists of performing an unspecified surgical procedure on members of the criminal underclass. Is it a vasectomy? A lobotomy? No, it's a piece of heavy-handed symbolism designed to illustrate the oppressive nature of the modern state. To call The Cut "Pinteresque" doesn't do justice to Ravenhill's earnest duplication of almost every trope in the Nobel Prize winner's theatrical playbook. It's more like a fawning homage, a reverential tribute. Ravenhill is the author of Fucking and Shopping and Mother Clapp's Molly House and, until now, he's been thought of as an "in-yer-face" playwright, a phrase coined by the critic Aleks Sierz that usually denotes plenty of swearing and male nudity. The Cut, by contrast, is a work of high modernism. As far as I can tell, it's an attempt by Ravenhill to be taken more seriously.

Needless to say, there's no discernible plot. It opens with a confrontation between McKellan and Jimmy Akingbola, a black prisoner who actually wants his captor to go to work on him with his scalpel. (Why? Has Akingbola just seen a play by Mark Ravenhill?) After what seems like several hours, in which they take it in turns to repeat themselves, we cut to a second scene in which McKellan and Deborah Findlay have a similarly incomprehensible--and equally repetitive--conversation. Here's an example of their dialogue:

Findlay: It's...comfortable. I'd say we're comfortable. Wouldn't you say we're comfortable?

McKellan: Yes.

Findlay: Yes. Comfortable's the word.

No, Ravenhill. Boredom's the word.

Compared to The Cut, The Exonerated seems like a piece of barn storming light entertainment, even though it consists of a series of monologues by six real-life American prisoners on death row. The dialogue is taken directly from depositions, court testimony, interviews, and so forth, and the play is called The Exonerated because all six prisoners eventually had their convictions overturned. On the night I saw it, the cast included Delroy Lindo, Stockard Channing and Aidan Quinn--and, later in the run, Danny Glover, Richard Dreyfuss and Kristin Davies are all scheduled to appear.

The reason The Exonerated is able to attract such a stellar line-up, of course, is because it's an anti-capital punishment play. This is an opportunity for well-meaning celebrities to show off their liberal credentials--and they can do it without having to learn any lines since they simply sit on stage with the script propped up in front of them. Rather incredibly, though, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone involved that this, in effect, is an endorsement of the American criminal justice system. If any of the innocent people featured here had ended up in the electric chair, that would be a powerful argument against capital punishment, but, in fact, they've all been released from prison. The impression we're left with--which can't possibly be the intention of the play's authors--is that there are sufficient safeguards built into the legal systems of those American states that have the death penalty to ensure that the innocent are never actually executed. I left the theatre more in favour of capital punishment than I was going in. At least one of my anxieties about it had been allayed.

I'd love to end on a positive note and sing the praises of Steptoe & Son, a new comedy that resurrects the characters in Galton and Simpson's classic sitcom, but, alas, it's a feeble retread of a path that seems extremely well worn. The actors--Jake Nightingale and Harry Dickman--do note-perfect impressions of Harry H Corbett and Wilfred Bramble, but the material they've been given to work with is so threadbare the whole thing seems completely pointless. I didn't laugh once.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter In this week’s ⁦@calling_podcast⁩ ⁦@JamesDelingpole⁩ and I discuss the looming Coronavirus pandemic, whether there’… link  (5 hours ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film