On The One Hand

Presented by The Paper Birds
Commissioned by Northern Stage
Supported by West Yorkshire Playhouse & the University of Chichester
Directed by Jemma McDonnell
Liverpool Playhouse Studio
15-19 October 2013

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

The play opens with a voiceover describing the earliest stages of life within the womb, upto the point where we develop hands and fingerprints.

It also details the amount of time the average person spends doing this and that, for example, sleeping, working, watching TV adverts!

Overall this is the theme of the production - how we use/misuse our time and the passing of time in life.

This is cleverly shown by each of the actors writing on the door of a fridge how much time remained of the play at certain points of the proceedings, with the minutes figure then being wiped off with a cloth. A reference, perhaps, to how much time we have remaining of our own lives.

On a very small stage within the Playhouse Studio, the four women actors from the Leeds-based Paper Birds each cleverly play a host of characters, which related to the multi-dimensional roles each of us carries out in our own existence. In essence, who are we?

In this confined space imaginative representations are made of the young backpacker asking fora train ticket in Vietnam and her use of Skype, the teenage working-class undergraduate studying at Cambridge University, an elderly lady in domestic settings, and the middle-aged business woman being interviewed on the QVC TV channel about a new product - a clip to fasten a pair of socks together!

This is done through the use of an unusual set design, which includes a chair, sofa, bath suspended from the ceiling, as well as a fridge and toilet.

Hands play a strong symbolic element throughout. As a woman speaks, the others stand behind her and frantically wave, click or slap their hands against their arms. It almost looks like sign language. Perhaps a pointer to how deaf we are, in many different ways, to the way we behave and conduct ourselves.

A number of deep philosophical questions are raised but it was by no means a sombre evening. On the other hand I found it a very enriching experience.

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