Dead Hands

Written by Howard Barker
Showing at The Lantern Theatre
4th - 6th July 2012

Reviewed by Jennifer Keegan

Dead Hands is a production by Just Some Theatre Company, written in 2004 by Howard Barker the idea was to explore the power of the voice, therefore the play becomes an experiment of speech in the theatre. The script was written with no punctuation, leaving each actor with complete authority over their role. This ensures the concept of each character is open to the actors own interpretation. Directed by Jake Urry, whose own fascination with the power of language and words no doubt shaped each rehearsal and performance. Eff, played by Peter Stone took on the main role, the grieving son who struggles to make his peace with the word father. Laura Hill takes on the role of manipulative mistress Sopron whilst Mark McKenzie plays the less impressive brother of Eff; Istvan. It seems each character explores the relationship between movement and voice with each pause, glance, and sway of hip carefully constructed to create this tragedy.

Hill plays Sopron; a woman full of compromise, she like to control men but contradicts herself by playing the submissive role of a wide eyed women, her desire to be desired whilst knowing desire can lead to passivity and therefore expiration makes her character a confused contradiction. Stones attempt to keep Eff lost in thoughts, with repetitive monologues, breaking rapidly from one idea to the next, before returning time and time again to old thoughts, instead of making him complex, only serves to show him as a rambling, perhaps even confused character. McKenzie serves his time as Istvan, the favourite son and his brothers’ confidant, unfortunately his character seems only to be introduced as a break for Hill and Stone. The character neither adds nor takes away from the play, through no fault of McKenzie; he is just surplus to the story.

The concept of Dead Hands was fantastic, the idea of those we leave behind coming together at a funeral to discuss their relationships with the deceased and each other could have been wonderful. The complexities of relationships could have been explored in a real and creative way. Unfortunately, this was not what Dead Hands achieved. The slow motion action, the dark music and candlelight made for an impressive start, but as the play progressed the language tried too hard to be sophisticated and shocking, even Stone tripped over his own voice as he got caught out by the fast paced and clever script. Then the use of vulgar words repetitively could have been the reason some of the audience made for the exit during the interval or perhaps the idea of two grieving sons finding refuge in the arms of their fathers’ mistress just wasn’t enough to hold their attention for the second half. Whatever the reason, Dead Hands was a massive disappointment.

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