Each of the short – but far from woeful – tales in this half-hour collection (from Bristol University and National Youth Theatre) have concepts that could be summed up in one line: a girl whose eyes are celestial telescopes; a boy who turns out to be a humanoid tea-bag; another boy who is half-sofa. They have all the singularity, absurdity and fun of Bizarro fiction and, with a confidence impressive for a student writer, Phoebe Simmonds’ script is written entirely in rhyming couplets.
The Girl with the Hurricane Hands is a commendable and extremely likeable production.
The five vignettes have much in common: most start with unusual conceptions and births, origin stories that lead each unlikely hero to problems of acceptance and belonging. Whilst the four-part story structure (origin-problem-trial-equilibrium) of each tale risks being somewhat repetitive, it does give them a pleasing simplicity. Each story reads like a miniature fable or myth, or maybe more like a joke: ‘did you hear the one about the girl with the hurricane hands?’
This sense is reinforced well by Simmonds’ couplets, which add to both the senses of compactness and whimsy. Her rhymes are often extremely satisfying, each couplet feeling like a little take off and landing. The best passages read like those of a top children’s poetry writer (Michael Rosen for example), and The Girl with Hurricane Hands is worth seeing if only to hear a formally ambitious script by such a promising writer.
The quality of writing is matched well by that of the delivery. Josephine Balfour gives perhaps a stand-out performance, full of energy and expression as, amongst others, Hurricane Hands herself. Elsewhere, Tullio Campanale is extremely endearing as Terry the Teabag; amongst a capable cast of five (completed by Sam Bird, Molly Honer and Tom Besley). There are nice touches in Simmonds’ direction too: in the transition between each story, four cast members freeze whilst the fifth brazenly removes the storybook from the ongoing scene to start the next tale. It would not be funny if the performers were not so precise and their manner not so playful.
The piece wants for more variety in form, content, structure and tone; and at times feels formulaic as a result. Too much of the blocking, furthermore, takes the action too low and removes it from audience’s line-of-sight. Some of the plotting also seems underworked: one story – about the boy who is half-sofa – rushes headlong, and confusingly, to an abrupt ending. It seems over before it starts.
It is the couplets that really make it, though. The Girl with the Hurricane Hands is a commendable and extremely likeable production. Whatever its limits, who could not, afterall, be won over by such audacious rhyme, inventive concepts and lively, fast-paced performance?