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A CurtainUp London London Review
Other Hands

You know when we first started you were the sun on my face . . .
Now the sun is the sun on my face.

---- Hayley
Other Hands
Richard Harrington as Steve and Katherine Parkinson as Lydia
(Photo: Geraint Lewis)
Laura Wade had been nominated for the 2006 Olivier for Outstanding Achievement before her new play Other Hands opened at London's Soho Theatre. Set in London among the thirty something generation, Wade's play looks at the part technology plays in our lives and uses the symbolism of physiological deterioration as a metaphor for the price our humanity pays for technology. It is an original and moving play with moments of blistering wit and poignancy.

Hayley (Anna Maxwell Martin) is a coolly, slick management consultant. She weighs up businesses, makes recommendations and people lose their jobs for not being efficient enough. Part of her armoury is to rephrase everything she does with sanitised, wrapped up, so called positive, homilies. When a client asks whether people will lose their jobs, she replies that there may be an opportunity to upskill the work force. Her live in boyfriend is Steve (Richard Harrington) a free lance computer software expert who makes house calls to fix people's computer systems. Greg (Michael Gould) is an older and married manager whose firm is under scrutiny from Hayley. The quartet is completed by Lydia, a scatty and zany out of work office manager who calls Steve in to look at her malfunctioning laptop.

Although the situation in which Steve and Hayley find themselves is one which is slightly unbelievable, Laura Wade's skill is in making the dialogue totally credible and natural. Steve is losing the use of his hands. Maybe it's through RSI from an addiction to computer game playing, maybe it's carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis or some other muscle malfunction. Hayley too seems to be developing Steve's complaint. As the play progresses both become incapable of carrying out normal functions when deprived of the use of their hands. Everyday actions, like opening windows and preparing food, eating it too, become laboured and increasingly impossible. Lydia shows amazing kindness to both Steve and Hayley: her humanity shines through. She lost her previous job through one of Hayley's purges when she held the door open for a man stealing her office pc. Greg just happens to be there when Hayley wants to find someone else to have a relationship with.

On the cover of Other Hands, the question is asked " In an age where things that don't work and can't be mended are thrown away, what do we do with something as human and messy as love?" I have problems in finding the parallels between Hayley and Steve to explain why both should be afflicted. Hayley is ambitious and single-mindedly determined to further her career. Steve may have been obsessive, preferring to interact with his PlayStation than his girlfriend. He is irresponsible and economically dependent on Hayley's income. It is easier to understand Hayley's loss of the use of her hands as some kind of divine punishment but Steve seems a nice guy. I suppose Laura Wade wants to think about the price we pay for technology and what it does to relationships. Hers is an original if mysterious stance and not one I totally grasp.However her play is full of wonderful humour.

Lydia starts with a garrulous line in verbal drivel where her every thought tumbles out nervously to Steve. Very, very funny and wonderful acted by Katherine Parkinson as the ditsy Lydia. Hayley's insistence on rephrasing everything hits its funniest peak when she and Greg verbally exchange the kind of sexual come on most people use behind the anonymity of emails or texting. She has to correct Greg's use of works, he uses cunt, she prefers pussy, he says cock, she says dick, adding that cock has gay connotations for her. Laura Wade's ear for conversation is talented.

All four actors convince in their roles. Anna Maxwell Martin is peevish, pedantic and prissy, controlling and determined. Richard Harrington as Steve is drifting along, lazy and ambivalent. Katherine Parkinson, endearing and scatty and quirky, her delivery with no full stops and a falling tone. Greg is disarmingly ordinary, a foil for Hayley. Bijan Sheibani's direction is impeccable. Paul Burgess' set switches nicely from apartments to office and in between the scenes electric flashes zing and splutter as the connections between electric plugs become increasing illuminated.

I liked Other Hands very much.

Written by Laura Wade
Directed by Beijan Sheibani

Starring: Anna Maxwell Martin
With: Michael Gould, Richard Harrington, Katherine Parkinson
Design: Paul Burgess
Lighting: Guy Kornetski
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Part of The RSC New Work Season
Other Hands was commissioned by the Soho Theatre's Writers' Attachment Programme sponsored by the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation
The text of Other Hands is published by Oberon Modern Plays,
Box Office: 0870 429 6883
Booking to 11th March 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th February 2006 performance at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1 (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
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