The Whip Hand

The Traverse Theatre is onto a winner with its programming this year. Douglas Maxwell’s The Whip Hand a family comedy drama, about power, privilege and escaping the past, is a firecracker of a piece.

The Whip Hand is a strong show within The Traverse’s program this year and one that will hopefully find its way to London, as it really deserves to.

Dougie (Jonathan Watson) is turning 50 and his family (well, ex-wife Arlene and new husband Lorenzo) are throwing him a party. But it is Dougie who has the surprise for them. A family event goes wrong in this terrifyingly realistic show. Dougie wants Arlene to give him money to back a cause he desperately wants to get behind. His family are skeptical but he won’t back down, even if he puts his daughter’s future at risk.

Maxwell’s writing is sharp and snappy. We all recognise these characters. They’re completely believable, very witty and mostly vile. This is a family in a mess. A divorced couple, a new husband, a teenage daughter and a nephew that doesn’t quite belong. The script smoothly navigates through and around the family issues with a clever mix of laughter and disbelief.

The acting is flawless. Every single performance is flawless. The pace is fast and there is no room for breathing. The 90 minutes move quickly as we join the cast on a runaway train of a script. The last scene is particularly spectacular. Louise Ludgate (playing Arlene) really lets rip. Her vicious tongue ready to attack at any moment. She spits her words with such venom we feel her pain and frustration with every single word. Molly, the daughter, (played by Joanne Thomson) shows a loyalty and despair that is heartbreaking. The bewildered Lorenzo (played by Richard Conlon) is hilarious. We all know a Lorenzo. Michael Abubakar plays Aaron with a wonderful intelligence, emotional and intellectual. But it’s Jonathan Watson as Dougie who really holds court. He needles and jabs exactly when necessary. Watson has an incredible amount of power and we go with him on this journey.

Tessa Walker’s direction is strong. Everything makes complete sense, yet we never know which way we are about to turn. No-one is showing us the ending at the beginning but every single character is multilayered. It is clear lots of work has been done on creating these characters. The set is perfect and it is used really well. A snazzy, clean living room that tells us exactly who we are dealing with without shouting it from the rooftops. Everything takes place in the one room, and that really adds to the building tension.

The Whip Hand is a strong show within The Traverse’s program this year and one that will hopefully find its way to London, as it really deserves to. 

Reviews by Emily Jane Kerr

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The Blurb

Dougie has just turned 50 and his family are throwing him a party. But it’s he who has the surprise. A bombshell proposal. He wants his ex-wife Arlene to back his new endeavour. He wants to serve a global cause, to make right a terrible wrong, even if it puts their daughter’s future at risk. They can all sense a scam, but Dougie won’t back down. He is convinced this is his only chance to do something truly glorious, but his motivation may not be as pure as it seems. An explosive new play by Douglas Maxwell.

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