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One Hand Clapping Reviewed: The Lowry

Jonathan Payne loves the Lucia Cox adapted Burgess story, part of Re:Play Festival 2014, 20 Jan-1 Feb

Written by . Published on January 21st 2014.


One Hand Clapping Reviewed: The Lowry
 

KICKING off the 2014 Library Theatre Re:Play festival (eight plays in twelve days at the Lowry Studios), comes this cracking little revival of One Hand Clapping. Adapted and directed by Lucia Cox this three-handed take on Anthony Burgess’ 1961 novel is sharp and mordantly funny. 

But the staging and the interplay of TVs, spotlights, soundtrack and characters is brilliantly handled overall – and there is an unexpected, stylised interlude of Christmas in New York which is very moving. 

Set in late 1950s ‘Bradcaster’, and mostly within a wittily staged Bradcaster council house (with one of those drop-wing Formica tables you never see anymore, a smattering of chintz and a selection of spot-on props), the couple Howard and Janet Shirley live out unremarkable jobs, watch TV and eat Baked Beans on toast: ‘It wasn’t an exciting life’.

But Howard has ‘an unusual kind of brain’, having a photographic memory and a gift of clairvoyance.  Having entered a television quiz show, Howard wins £1000 and then bets it all successfully on the horses.

Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

Shot through with Burgessian disdain for the rubbish of modern life – there was ‘not a lot to be taught at school, so we concentrated on appearance’ – the couple end up travelling across the US with the winnings.

But this is far more than simple (and still relevant) gripes at incipient consumerism, tawdry newspapers, nugatory TV and ‘English people turned into Americans’. What lifts it above such concerns are the characters being odd, complex people, and the play goes off in an unexpected direction. 

Eve Burley as Janet is outstanding , talking both to the audience and her co-stars throughout, and slowly coming to grips with a husband who is increasingly uncomfortable in his own skin. Oliver Devoti matches his stage wife, continually straightening furniture, folding clothes, erupting in anger at multiplying imagined indignities.

They are joined by Adam Urey, who doubles up as an oozing-Brie cheesy game-show host (channelling Hughie Green), and impoverished poet and chancer Redvers Glass. I can’t remember the last time one saw three such performers excel in one play. 

‘Am I on? Are we rolling?’ are the first words we hear, Janet being beamed via the 50s TV sets around the stage. On this particular night, no, as tech issues meant we had a false start and some jazz as things were sorted out. But the staging and the interplay of TVs, spotlights, soundtrack and characters is brilliantly handled overall – and there is an unexpected, stylised interlude of Christmas in New York which is very moving. 

It’s only on tonight and tomorrow (21, 22 January, 7pm and 9pm respectively). 

Do go. 

For further details of Library Theatre's Re:Play festival click here.

The Lowry

The Lowry

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