Words by Nicole O'Rielley
The scene to which the audience entered the space was perfectly chilling. I can't even tell you—I'd hate to ruin it. But what I can tell you is that this directional choice by writer and director, Simon Lanicone, encapsulated The Executioner in a single glance: simple, unnerving, effective. If you're looking for a dandy old skip-through-the park-kind of show, you're looking in the wrong direction.
The Executioner, as you might have guessed from the stark title, is a heavy piece of theatre. It's dark. It's confronting. It goes there. But did I lap up every hanging moment of this work? Yes.
I asked thirty-year-old Simon Lancione what inspired him to write such a grim piece. He told me about the time he spent volunteering at the Old Adelaide Goal. His eloquence with words is not limited to the written form; he painted me a picture of the hang tower and the small room where the executioner would sit, waiting in solitude for the command to pull the leaver. To take a life.
'What would it be like to be stuck in that room before legally killing another person?' He said, re-enacting his internal musings for me. 'What would you think about?'
The character Lanicone crafted to answer these questions took form in a white, blue-collar man living in the 1960s, brought to life by Julian Jaensch, who was stunning to behold. In this wordy, one-man, monologue style production, Jaensch had nothing to lean on. It could have gone so, so wrong. It could have been a cure for insomniacs. But it wasn't. Jaensch breathed life into each and every word, showed beautiful dynamics, sensitivity, realism and internal conflict. With nothing to look at bar him, Jaensch successfully took us on a journey into the mind of his character, through the ebbs and flows of human thought and into the cracks of uncertainty.
While set in a past era, the content of this piece still has the ability to be relevant and familiar as it touches on gender roles, embedded racism, domestic violence and escapism. The way these ideas were presented, in a stream of consciousness style, allowed multiple perspectives to be explored although all contained within a single mind. This added another dimension to The Executioner, also acting as a representation of the thought process of the human mind.
The Executioner is content rich, seamlessly crafted and topped off by a killer performance. I would recommended it for those seeking a theatre experience that is intellectual and challenging while still entertaining.
The Executioner was produced by Simon Lancione's Beating Heart Theatre Company.