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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

The Standard Short Long Drop

Ticking Clock Theatre

Genre: Drama, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: theSpace


Low Down

In York, 1885, Lewis “Ludley” Thornhill, is a young man condemned to die. His luck seems to change when he is offered a stay of execution but only if he will serve as the hangman for his cellmate, Alistair. Over their last days together, Ludley tries to get to the bottom of Alistair’s mysterious past and supposed crimes. The Standard Short Long Drop is an exploration of class, cost of living, and the ever-looming threat of the end framed by the final days of two unlikely friends.


One of the great pleasures of Edinburgh Fringe is finding that off-the-radar show that ends up being a rare hidden jewel among the thousands of festival offerings. Such was the discovery of The Standard Short Long Drop, a marvelous 50-minute two-hander by Rachel Garnet that is economic in its size and duration but manages to pack a serious dramatic and suspenseful punch. 

Set in a prison cell in York in 1885, the play quickly presents a dilemma that will have no easy resolution. Horse thief Lewis “Ludley” Thornhill and his cellmate Alistair are both scheduled for hanging until Ludley is given a possible reprieve: His death sentence will be commuted if he serves as hangman for the weathered, mysterious Alistair.

Given his predicament, the much-younger Ludley then wants to know more about the man he is going to legally murder, possibly to justify the punishment he is soon going to mete out. Garnet has mastered the art of the narrative reveal so that suspense and heartbreak kick in as Ludley and the audience slowly and surely learn the social injustices that led Alistair to this condemnatory, final place.

Director Natasha Rickman has done an outstanding job with her actors. As Ludley, Per Carminger is all youthful verve, a ball of chatty, gangly nerves until adulthood is cruelly forced upon him in the harshest of ways. And Kevin Wathen is both heartbreaking and riveting as the gruff, troubled Alistair. As their character’s positions shift, with Wathen having to open up as Carminger becomes a more stolid man, the audience holds its collective breath in anticipation of what will next come. 

The only criticism I have for this production, and it is minor in the scheme of things, are the few music transitions. They’re tonally wrong and diffuse the momentum and tension of the show, a distraction from the otherwise great work on display. 

Like Martin McDonagh, who wickedly demolishes the very notion of capital punishment is his play Hangmen, Garnet suffuses much dark, needed humor in The Standard Short Long Drop that prevents the enterprise from being a sour, dour outing and instead is a thoughtful, masterfully crafted piece of theatre. I imagine in the future that her play and McDonagh’s will be taught as companion pieces, thematically related but different works that not only stand the test of time but question what was considered acceptable in the times that have passed.