Whip Hand has a theme that’s come through a lot this year at Edinburgh. How our past deeds – good, bad or indifferent have affected where we are now. This play explores our feelings of guilt and how we can manipulate and be manipulated by them.
It’s Dougie’s 50 th birthday and he says that he’s been contacted by a solicitor. His whole demeanour is alive and excited and you can tell that this is not his usual self by the attitude of his ex-wife and her new husband who are throwing the birthday party for him in their comfortable expensively furnished home. We at first think that Dougie’s come into money that will take him from sleeping at his mum’s house into an income bracket on a par with his ex and her new husband. Not so. The figure is £25,000 and he’s being asked to pay this amount to the ancestors of the slaves that his great, great, great grandfather Saracen Bell kept on his plantation in the West Indies. Backing up Dougie’s story is his nephew Aaron who lives at his mum’s house with him. He is the son of Dougie’s sister and (now disappeared) husband, a person of colour.
Arlene, Dougie’s ex-wife thinks he wants to borrow the money from her and her new husband (again), but Dougie already knows that they’ve run out of cash and are in debt. No, he wants to take the £25,000 fund put aside for Molly, his bright, young daughter for when she starts university in a month’s time. Douglas Maxwell the writer turns the whole audience against Dougie, this hate filled man. It doesn’t matter to Dougie when Aaron, his nephew reveals that the solicitor and the Saracen Bell website is a scam. He still wants the money put aside for Molly. Before the climax of the play Dougie succeeds in dealing body blows to all the characters in the play, in particular to Aaron.
So it’s a great story with a terrible message that we are all victims and that vulnerable people of colour are still treated badly. There are some wonderful scenes where individual actors are able to truly shine, in particular Michael Abubakar who plays Aaron. The assurance of Richard Conlon who plays Lorenzo is there from the start but it takes the other actors time. This may be a director’s error. We cannot see the difference between a character who is unsure and an actor who’s unsure unless the direction is tight. The Whip Hand is on at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from September 5th to September 16th. Book tickets by clicking on the picture below.