Thursday, 27 February 2014

Hand Over Fist @ The King's Arms, 25.02.2014

Playing the old when you are young can be a risky business. There is always the temptation to ham it up and make a mockery of age, or else play it straight with safe stereotypes that can only open a very small window on the soul. How enjoyable, then, to see Fresh Loaf Productions take that risk and get the payoff with their wonderful staging of Hand Over Fist by Dave Florez. Hand Over Fist is a one-woman show that sees Emily (Helena Davies) tell the tale of an important meeting with a man in a bar. At first everything seems normal, but as the story flows along it suddenly escapes, like water in a river studded with sinkholes. Emily, you see, has dementia, and so nothing is quite as it should be. Infinite significance is butted up against meaningless nothingness, causality vanishes and, in Emily’s own words, ideas and objects are, “Empty...yet atomic.” This mixture of lucidity and lunacy feels very real, and while it is humorous it is also rather sad.

The performance of Helena Davies as Emily was balanced and moving, a credit to both actor and director; sustaining the ups and downs, high flights and sudden stops for over an hour in a one-woman show takes serious endurance. As already alluded to, the portrayal of an elderly person by someone young can be difficult, and so further praise must go to the team for carrying it off. Mellor used music to good effect, softening the harsher edges of Emily's anguish, and the lighting changes made it seem as though the fractals of her personality were shining through her cracked ego.

Losing someone in the fog of mental breakdown, be it through age or illness, is one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen in life. It is hard to deal with, hard to explain...and so to see it depicted on stage with such clarity was rather a contradictory and strange experience. This is the second Fresh Load production I have seen, and while completely different from the first it had some similar qualities. It felt thorough and professional, without feeling safe, and once again the performance felt very real and not quite as raw as your usual fringe fair. My one quibble is that some of the language felt too modern for an elderly lady, even one suffering from dementia. However, even if that is the case it should take nothing from writer Florez, whose script achieved a crazed stitching together of story threads without leaving any unwelcome loose ends. Another strong production from Fresh Loaf, and I am already looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Words: Andrew Anderson

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