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Review of Paper Cut at Park90, Park Theatre

The minimalist staging makes Ground Zero in New York City looking more or less like Kyle’s (Callum Mardy) house, which itself looks incredibly sparse. Setting that aside (because next to no set means, at least in principle, faster scene changes), some of the silences in this production are so long that if a Tube journey had paused for the same amount of time, an apology would have been made over the public address system with reassurances that the train would be “moving shortly”. There are no such assurances here – at one point the audience sits silently watching a letter being read, equally silently.

Paper Cut. Credit Stefan Hanegraaf.
Paper Cut. Credit Stefan Hanegraaf.

The pacing never goes beyond moderate – one would have thought opinionated soldiers would be talking over one another in heated discussions. They like to shout at one another, which is at least better than the problem often reported by television viewers, some of whom resort to turning on the subtitles despite not being hard of hearing, just to understand what is being mumbled. But the variation between an infernal racket and moments of complete silence eventually becomes too jarring, and the start-stop-start nature of proceedings felt like a car journey with unforeseen traffic problems rather than plain sailing.

Some more context would have been appreciated, whether in the form of explanatory dialogue and/or still and moving projections. There are scenes apparently in Afghanistan, presumably in the early stages of the international conflict that started a few months after 9/11 but didn’t formally end until December 2014. In the ‘present day’ of the play, there are laptops and extensive use of social media and video calls. While some sympathy is to be gained for Kyle not being fully accepted, partly because of a disability, which came about after stepping on a bomb, or an ‘improvised explosive device’, and partly for his sexual orientation, he lives in the United States. That country’s respect and reverence for war veterans is very high, and there are, frankly, far worse places in the world he could be. It is not as if he is liable to be imprisoned or executed for being gay.

Jack (Joe Bollard), Kyle’s twin brother, had some kind of fallout with Kyle some years ago, for which Kyle has apologised for, on numerous occasions. Kyle has a handgun, which he keeps for protection, which Jack objects to, and there’s a very weird scene in which Jack starts going through Kyle’s bag as soon as his (Kyle’s) back is turned. I thought it was perfectly reasonable for Kyle to object. Perhaps predictably, the young men had a father who held outmoded views, and having fought in – you guessed it – the war in Vietnam, he had the very same post-traumatic stress disorder Kyle now finds himself struggling with.

There’s an on-off relationship with Chuck (Prince Kundai), another soldier, whom Kyle met on the frontline, and a friendship struck with Harry (Tobie Donovan), who Kyle met (if I understood correctly) through social media. Harry’s inclusion in the story is an intriguing one – online, he struggles to spell ‘Afghanistan’ when messaging Kyle, and in person, demonstrates extraordinary naivety. Is he meant to be representative of the average armchair punter, who knows what they know about war through news reports and zero personal experience?

Taken together, the ingredients are there for something gritty and highly engaging. A pity, then, that it was, in a word, dull. Structurally, there’s little more than scene after scene of two men at a time in conversation – or indeed not. I have nothing against the cast, who do their best with what they are given, but if this play was meant to be a pushback against anti-LGBT+ regulations and norms in the United States, the lack of political content and discussion was a missed opportunity. There are always difficulties experienced by military personnel re-adjusting to civilian life, and there ultimately isn’t much to distinguish Kyle’s story from that of so many others.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A queer love story that looks at how a man’s identity is affected by injury, and by fighting for a country that doesn’t fully accept you, Paper Cut is a tender and funny new play by American writer Andrew Rosendorf. As Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation – which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity at school across all grade levels – gains traction with other states, with dozens proposing similar bills, the show is a timely exploration of queer men in the military, of men who will die for their country even when their country tells them every day – in small and large ways – that they are less than.

The show runs at Park Theatre 7 June – 1 July. press release below and here

Running time 1hr 45 (includes interval)
Park90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP

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