The last public hanging in the UK took place in 1868, although it remained in use as a form of punishment for almost another 100 years. The Standard Short Long Drop, a two-man production from Ticking Clock Theatre, puts hanging under the microscope for a story of justice, belief, and class. Finely paced and gripping throughout, this production uses a small scale to its advantage to craft a claustrophobic, gripping story of instinct.

Set in York in 1885, the condemned Lewis ‘Ludley’ Thornhill is given the opportunity to be a free man – but only if he acts as the hangman for his cellmate Alistair, who remains aloof and not forthcoming with details about his past. As the play progresses, and the relationship between the pair develops, both men participate in detailed, passionate discussions about workers rights and the meaning of justice. In one particularly grim sequence, Alistair has to tie his own noose rope as Ludley’s illiteracy means that he can’t read the instructions. 

The Standard Short Long Drop compels you to let every word and argument sink in fully, taking its time with revelations and twists so that you can share in the prisoners’ unbearable wait for their end. Both actors are magnificent, Ludley’s fear and uncertainty captured with a stripped back approach that merits sympathetic appreciation of his plight. Alistair meanwhile has a Ron Perlman energy about him; age used as a performance tool with eyes that speak of years of wretched pain, yet with a look that remains strangely reassuring. 

Ticking Clock Theatre’s show does not make use of an elaborate set or technical trickery, but it doesn’t have to. Some slick transitions aside, the audience has to share in the leading pair’s plight for an uncomfortable amount of time. It twists the knife even further, forcing the crowd to wrap their heads around the dilemmas of equality and fairness that they bring to the fore. All the while, the nameless, faceless authorities and jailers loom as an ever-present threat. The show is hardly action-packed, but the tension never lets up. 

A fascinating examination of what justice means and who gets to decide what it means, The Standard Short Long Drop is an accomplished hour of theatre. Frightening reality is balanced with contemplation and sprinkles of dark humour for a show unafraid to pull at your moral emotions.