REVIEW: The Whip Hand, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ✭✭✭✭✭

The Whip Hand at Edinburgh Fringe transferring to Birmingham Rep

The Whip Hand
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh and Birmingham Rep
Five stars
Book Now at Birmingham Rep

The sins of the past come back with explosive force in Douglas Maxwell’s new play, The Whip Hand. A family come together in a luxuriously furnished house in Glasgow to celebrate the 50th birthday of diffident, mild-mannered Dougie as well as his daughter Molly’s exam results that have earned her a place at university. The chat is light, jokey and amiable but it soon emerges that there are cracks beneath the surface: the house belongs not to Dougie but to his ex-wife Arlene and her second husband Lorenzo while Dougie is living with his mum, struggling to make ends meet. He also shares his small home with his young nephew who was suddenly abandoned by his father at a young age. This is clearly not the happy family it first appears.

The faults start to appear when Dougie makes a big announcement: he has been told they are distantly related to a rich 19th-century slave-owner who was notorious for his brutality. When an emotional Dougie reveals he wants to make “reparation” of £25,000 to a fund for the descendants of slaves, tensions grow, leading to the family confronting not only the sins of the distant past but some more recent ones.

Jonathan Watson gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Dougie, a quiet family man with hidden reserves of angry disappointment and frustration. Louise Ludgate is also excellent as his sharp-tongued ex-wife Arlene alongside Richard Conlon as the smooth, easy-going Lorenzo. Joanne Thomson has a steely innocence as Molly while Michael Abubakar stands out with his intense portrayal of Dougie’s nephew, Aaron.

With its twists and revelations, this works as a gripping family drama, but it also cleverly explores our sense of responsibility and what drives it. Directed by Birmingham Rep’s associate director Tessa Walker, the play is taut and fizzing with tension, tackling issues that are both timely and timeless.

Running at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, to August 27 and Birmingham Rep from September 5 to 16


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