Writer: Laura Wade
Director: James Bounds
Reviewer: Ian Foster
The Public Reviews Rating:
Though probably best known for her Royal Court hit Posh which transferred successfully into the West End this year, Laura Wade has been writing plays since 1996. But it is her 2006 play Other Hands which receives its first professional UK revival here at the Riverside Studios, fresh from a tour of the South Coast. Wade revisited the play to make a few updates to the text to reflect the technological advances and economic turmoil in the six years since it was written but at its heart, the central issues of Other Hands remain just as pertinent today. In a world of ever-increasing reliance on technology and the relentless pursuit of efficiency, are we in danger of not investing enough time in human relationships. To quote the playwright herself, what’s the use in 10,000 Facebook friends if you have no-one to give you a hug at the end of a rubbish day.
Wade explores this contemporary malaise in two ways through the central couple of Steve and Hayley. Together for 8 years and both professionally adept at fixing things, Steve is a freelance IT consultant who is perfectly happy to while away the hours on his PlayStation instead of looking for business as Hayley is a high-flying management consultant, earning enough to keep them both afloat. But they are barely treading water emotionally, and as problems start to manifest themselves physically too in the form of Steve’s ever-worsening RSI, they both start to look elsewhere.
What they both find is the possibility of greater connection. Pamela Banks’ brisk Hayley, sequestered in a world of corporate-speak, finds a way out through a serious flirtation with Greg, a married client, leading to a fantastically charged scene of great power. And James Dutton’s appealingly dopey Steve connects with the dippy Lydia, who is as desperate for human interaction as he, as fixing her computer leads to a deeper emotional intimacy, but one which manifests itself as genuine compassion as she turns her helping hand to Hayley too, as her hands also becomes afflicted.
What Wade captures perfectly is the manner in which society moulds the way that we communicate. Despite their other benefits, technological advances and business-oriented mindsets have actually limited our emotional literacy and supplanted some of the necessary braveness to make tough decisions about one’s own life. The cast get the rhythm of this inarticulacy beautifully under James Bounds’ precise direction and Ellan Parry’s design allows for quick transitions which are interestingly lit by Miguel Vicente. It’s a fascinating take on love and life which is full of sharply comic observations – the passive-aggressiveness of a stale couple is brilliantly depicted – but also an insightful critique on the way modern society is heading.