Reviews Exeter Published 2 October 2012

Other Hands

Bike Shed Theatre ⋄ 30th September 2012

Varying degrees of solipsism.

Belinda Dillon

Hayley is a high-flying management consultant hired by struggling companies to carry out ‘human performance reviews’; her long-term partner, Steve, is a freelance IT expert, an underachieving semi-slacker who puts in more hours on the Playstation than he does fixing computers. Generally unhappy and dissatisfied, they rub along; more out of habit, it seems, than a genuine desire to be together. But this holding pattern soon disintegrates beyond avoidance when Steve’s RSI – gaming-related, Hayley assumes – worsens, and then Hayley also starts to lose manual dexterity. Not so much the seven-year itch, then, as the eight-year paralysis…

Laura Wade’s 2006 play – here revived for the first time by Vital Signs Theatre – is sharp in both its dissection of a relationship gone stale and its exploration of modern society’s obsession with technology, posing the question: if Hayley and Steve are so good at fixing corporations and PCs, why can’t they fix themselves? Their painful and useless digits could literally by caused by over-reliance on the gadgets that have shifted the parameters of human interaction; technology that ultimately isolates while simultaneously keeping them potentially permanently plugged in to everyone else on the planet, and their bodies are shutting down in self-defence. But in losing the use of their hands, Hayley and Steve lose the ability to comfort and hold each other, and so become ever more remote. As a metaphor for the modern malaise, it’s painfully eloquent.

Pamela Banks is particularly good as Hayley, all brittle efficiency and starched business suits until the flirtation with married colleague Greg heats up over a cup of bubble tea (a fantastic scene that manages to be sexy, funny and sad). Wade’s preoccupation with communication and its pitfalls is most strikingly explored through Hayley, who is well-versed in corporate-speak, turning nouns into verbs and brandishing jargon as a means of distancing herself from the destructive cruelty of her job as a sort of corporate hit-woman.

Steve’s growing friendship with technophobe Lydia (a nicely kooky performance from Lucy Lill) injects the piece with real warmth; she is the one character who demonstrates genuine human kindness, drawing the other three out of their varying degrees of solipsism. The scene in which she is in loco parentis to both Steve and Hayley is affecting in its tenderness.

Both the direction and the set design are slick – it’s a touring production, which necessitates compact precision in the latter, but this also works well in the context of the play. But while the writing is, of course, witty, insightful and knowing, Other Hands is not Wade’s best play (I prefer her darker material, personally) and I’m unsure whether it actually needs reviving at this point. However, Vital Signs have much to offer and deliver a well-executed production. I look forward to seeing them stretch themselves with a piece of, well, more demanding vitality than this.

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Belinda Dillon

Originally from London, Belinda is an editor and writer now living in Exeter. She goes to as much theatre as the day job will allow. When not sitting in the dark, or writing about sitting in the dark, she likes to drink wine, read 19th-century novels and practice taxidermy. Your cat is very beautiful. Is it old?

Other Hands Show Info


Produced by Vital Signs Theatre

Directed by James Bounds

Written by Laura Wade

Cast includes Lucy Lill, Pamela Banks, James Dutton, Christopher Gilling

Link http://www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk/

Running Time 2 hours (including interval)

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