The Whip Hand is a powerful new play from the Traverse Theatre Company and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre with the National Theatre of Scotland. It tells a family tale of money, greed, guilt and hatred, with all of these issues revealed during a seemingly happy celebration – a family birthday. Played out by a talented ensemble cast of five, The Whip Hand asks the question, are we responsible in some way for the actions of our ancestors.
Dougie is 50 and is life is most definitely at a crossroads. Back living with his mother, and sharing a room with his directionless nephew Aaron, his life is a direct contrast to that of his ex-wife, and mother of his daugher, Arlene, who is now living in an Ikea catologue show home with husband Lorenzo. Despite the divorce, it seems like happy families for them all, with Arlene and Lorenzo throwing a party to celebrate Dougie’s birthday, and the excellent exam grades that have ensured daughter Molly a place at Sheffield University. But during the course of the party, Dougie drops a bombshell that threatens the lives they are all currently living, and particularly the future for Molly. The party descends into a maelstrom of anger and emotion that ultimately leads the most placid, easy going member of the household into an act of violence.
All the cast are perfect in their roles. Jonathan Watson as Dougie is the epitome of a middle aged man at a crossroads, but he gives Dougie an air of menace that belies that soft exterior. His final parting shots are almost chilling in their coldness. Richard Conlon as Lorenzo is very much a new man, easy going, almost wet, but trying to be conciliatory and fair. His chemistry with Arlene (Louise Ludgate) is one of the high points of the drama, and also gives the play a warm heart and at least an early element of humour. Louise Ludgate is brilliant as the feisty, passionate Arlene, who will fight tooth and very long fingernail with Dougie to ensure that their daughter’s future is safe guarded. Her fast verbal altercations with Dougie and Aaron sparkle with hatred and are powerful enough to remain with you long after you leave the theatre. The younger members of the cast are great too, with Michael Abubakar as Aaron noticeably turning from a pleasant, friendly young man, to a questionably shady character as he tries to manipulate his friend and cousin into turning over her university fund to her father. Joanne Thomson plays Molly as the moral conscience of the piece, troubled by her father’s revelations, but totally questioning how responsible the current generation is for the crimes of their forefathers. Molly seems controlled and responsible, so when she descends into her own rage it is both potent and shocking.
The Whip Hand is a powerful piece of theatre, the sort that leaves you with so many discussions when you leave.
The Whip Hand
Birmingham Rep Theatre 05 Sep 2017 – 16 Sep 17
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