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One Hand Clapping (Re:Play - Salford)

One Clapping Hand at the Lowry is enjoyable yet bitter-sweet, says Sarah Bloomer

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"Two hands clap and there is sound; what is the sound of one hand?" asks the latest adaptation from House of Orphans and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. One Hand Clapping opens the wonderfully diverse Re:play festival, which brings together a selection of the best of Manchester's fringe theatre for the seventh year running.

One Hand Clapping
© House of Orphans

Written by Anthony Burgess and originally published in 1961, this piece has been adapted for the stage by writer and performer Lucia Cox. Janet is married to Howard, a paranoid conventionalist with an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a photographic memory. He has only one hobby, and that's his wife. Uncomfortable with his newly acquired wealth and intent on verifying his belief that "life is one big punishment", Howard sets out on an unremitting journey towards martyrdom, and takes Janet along for the ride.

Entertainment versus enlightenment, materialism versus knowledge, wealth versus worth, the play draws on the paradoxical indictment that greed and complacency translate into social and moral ignorance. Social satire is carefully complemented by cartoonesque comedic interludes that reference the social era, on an effectively styled 1950s set.

Eve Burley in the central role of Janet mixes just the right amount of submissive sass to Oliver Devoti's plaintive machismo, and the wonderfully adaptive Adam Urey in the role of Laddie O'Neill delights with predictable charm. However, Redvers Glass appears as a disappointingly unfinished caricature, his fleeting dalliances with Janet seem so improbable that you are lead to question the commitment of a narrative that began as such an impressively contemplative moral quandary.

Unrequited love, in all its directions, is tenderly introduced but unsatisfyingly never explored with the sincerity it deserves, and at times the contrast in Janet and Howard's vision - which is imperative to justify the conclusion - seems weak and ambivalent.

Wearing its influences on its sleeve, One Hand Clapping is an enjoyable if bitter-sweet portrait of the struggling sanctity of lifetime togetherness amidst the darker side of convenience culture. Daringly surreal and innovatively executed.

One Hand Clapping is at the Lowry until 22 January.

- Sarah Bloomer