Last Updated on 15th June 2023
Tim Hochstrasser reviews Ecclesia’s production of Andrew Rosendorf’s play Paper Cut currently playing at the Park Theatre, London.
Paper Cut offers a ninety-minute examination of war trauma, gay identity, sibling relationships, online dating, and above all the challenges of living with disability. This is an American play now receiving its UK premiere in the care of Ecclesia, a theatre company devoted to presenting work that discusses the impact of big politics on little people.
This is certainly the level on which Andrew Rosendorf’s drama works best – the impact and consequences of war and social prejudice are memorably presented and enacted by a fine quartet of actors, though some of the directorial decisions by Scott Hurran are less convincing.
Many plays these days that run for ninety minutes deal with the compressed time frame by deploying flashback sequences and messing around with the narrative flow. This can be tiresome and distracting in the wrong hands, but here it works very well. The scenes flow lucidly back and forth while never losing the audience along the way. Therefore we are willing to make the effort to fill in the gaps in our understanding especially with such powerful and empathetic playing in front of us.
Kyle, (Callum Mardy) is a closeted Staff Sergeant serving in Afghanistan, who has betrayed himself by outing his brother. In a sequence of tender scenes quite close in tone and substance to the new theatre version of Brokeback Mountain, we see him get intimate and open up with Chuck (Prince Kundai) and begin to question his choices. But then he steps on an IED and his world and body are shattered.
The rest of the action revolves around Kyle attempts to navigate this transformed reality – in mending or ending his relationship with Chuck; in reconciling or not with his alienated brother; and in tentative online hook ups with an old High School friend, Harry. The dialogue is taut but also freighted with potential for comic release that the actors make full use of.
It is a bare set indeed – a wooden back wall with storage chests, a couple of chairs, and strip lights hanging at various heights, which shift colour and mood at intervals. The work is all done by the actors, and this is where the finest quality work of the evening is to be found. As the long-suffering but awkward brother, Jack, Joe Bollard projects a neurotic and self-absorbed persona with skill before finding reserves of empathy. Tobie Donovan makes the most of the relatively minor role of the besotted school friend, Harry, who has never really grown up. There is a lot of humour in his guileless immaturity, but the gaps in his understanding at the end are made truly jarring. Prince Kundai has to demonstrate a very wide emotional range in his portrayal of Chuck, whose warm West Virginian frankness finally breaks through Kyle’s angry reserve. There is a physical energy and glow about his performance that is endearing, but also essential as he has to make a lot of the emotional weather in the early scenes of the play.
At the heart of the evening is Mardy’s remarkable embodiment of the role of Kyle. I say embodiment deliberately because while his disability matches that of the character, it is the physical fluidity of his performance that immediately impresses, as he moves swiftly from wheelchair to floor and back again with grace and precision. There is a touching inwardness there too, whether expressed in anger or self-disdain or a warm embrace – so many moods are registered in a part that needs to demonstrate true emotional growth and change within a short space of time.
The one real drawback is the pacing – pauses stretch to infinity and there are patches of dialogue that are not near snappy enough. Given the skill of the actors present it is hard to see why this slow shift through the gears is required by the director. But despite these longueurs this is a memorable evening that resonates in the memory.
Runs to 1 July