Monday, 20 July 2015

Aaron Hubbard's Clap Hands, Hackney Studios (by Lin Hornby)

“Clap Hands” by Aaron Hubbard
Pluck Productions
Hackney Studios

Image Credit: Pluck Productions

Ana and Gogol are siblings who have lived for the last fifteen years, locked in the basement of their mother's home with no access to the outside world; they have only each other, a few books and some records to fill up their whole existence.  The walls are covered with childish drawings in bright, happy colours...and five bar gate tallies chalked up on the bricks to mark the hundreds of days that have passed in their basement prison.

Ana is exuberant, filled with boundless enthusiasm, dancing furiously and jumping on the bed as she sings along at the top of her voice to one of the records by her beloved Cruz Gentle.

A cry of pain outside the door and Gogol rushes in, his hand wrapped in a towel. Mother had burnt it, he says, because the window was open. Gogol is a darker presence.  Where Ana is joyful in her world of music and safety, Gogol is less content. He has a much shorter fuse, snapping Ana's record in half to stop the noise, frustrated with her lack of interest in his pain.

Their relationship is a complicated balance made up of games and arguments and truces, of innocence and possession. Mother is a presence who lives in the house above, controlling but distant.

EJ Martin's Ana is a strong, completely believable mixture of innocence, energy and excitement. She is a child who has no experience of the world outside, just the tiny boundaries of the basement.  She believes the words of Cruz Gentle when he sings that everything is good and that's how the world must be, but like any child she can be fickle and throw a tantrum at any moment.  Philip Honeywell as Gogol creates a very physical performance.  His stance and body language constantly convey his frustration with being trapped, the anger that has been building in him, energy that is threatening to overwhelm him. He also captures Gogol's Machiavellian intelligence; they way he reads the story of Cinderella to Ana, encouraging her to see how cruelly Cinderella's mother treats her, his voice almost seductive, whispering what could happen, and feigning innocence as Ana sees the violent possibilities...  Both actors work incredibly well together, making their strange relationship utterly compelling.

Jeremy Drakes' portrayal absolutely captures Detective Olyphant, the man who is brought in to deal with Ana and Gogol after they have 'done a naughty' to Mother.  He's calm, he's clever, he plays along with their game, he knows about their world... He's a perfect foil to Ana and Gogol's madness.

It is a play of darkness and unexpected comedy.  James Smoker directs it in a way that conveys the claustrophobia of the basement as well as the world that the characters have had to create to survive there. The design, by Simon Wells, is minimal but suits both the production and the space. The costumes, pyjamas in bright friendly colours, evoke childhood and innocence, and work perfectly with the strangeness of the characters. 

Claps Hands' is a surreal and twisted gem of a play, with a heavy dose of gallows humour.

All in all, a strong company, new writing, great performances, an interesting venue – what's not to love?!

Reviewer: Lin Hornby

Reviewed on 18/07/2015

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