Other Hands

Laura Wade

Soho Theatre

(2006)

Review by Philip Fisher

Laura Wade is really on a high at the moment. Two weeks ago, she received the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, the third prize for her work in 2005.

The main subject matter of her two plays last year, Colder Than Here and Breathing Corpses was death and one began to wonder whether the 28 year-old might become typecast.

Other Hands concentrates on live people, and it is only their minds and some of their body parts that are benumbed. This is a contemporary play about the stresses that our most successful young people must contend with if they wish to compete in the rat-race. It also considers whether making it big is worth the trouble.

Steve and Hayley could hardly be more different. Richard Harrington plays a laid-back Welshman who has dropped out of his job as a computer consultant to become a self-employed layabout who is happier playing with his X-Box than fixing computers.

Although only 30 and looking much younger, Anna Maxwell Martin's Hayley is a highly successful management consultant who specialises in "Human Performance Review" and spouting euphemisms. Her main talent lies in reorganising ailing businesses and has no qualms about offering her clients "opportunities to upskill the workforce".

Their relationship is on the rocks and the surprise is not that they are struggling to get on together but that the high-flier and the coaster have remained together for eight years with little or nothing in common.

Each of them meets outsiders who make them reflect upon and ultimately change their lives.

Hayley's latest client is the aggressive Greg, an older businessmen played by Michael Gould, who resents her presence but eventually warms to the idea of having a pretty young woman around.

Steve helps unemployed Lydia (Katherine Parkinson) when her computer picks up a virus. This is a scene that made your reviewer most uncomfortable having spent a fortnight recently begging and cajoling his own computer to operate properly.

It may have taken Steve six hours hard labour for a return of a mere £40 but as a reward, he befriends the awkward, tongue-tied bed-sit dweller.

Strangely, neither Hayley nor Steve seems particularly interested in developing a sexual relationship with their new friends. Having said that, the young lady and older man enjoy a scintillating bout of what might normally be thought of as telephone sex, except that this takes place across a restaurant table - shades of When Harry Met Sally.

While all of this is developing, the cohabiting yuppies both begin to develop sore wrists that might be related to RSI, particularly in Steve's case when his best friend is his X-Box. Eventually neither can even open a bottle of milk and Hayley is forced into bed with what could be ME.

Touchingly, their rescuer is the genuinely decent Lydia, whose reward for selflessness rather than awaiting her arrival in heaven comes in the form of a job, inevitably with Greg.

On one level, this is a simple, accessible piece about yuppie relationships today. However, it is more than that because it is also a morality tale in which the haves eventually must rely on the have-nots in order to survive, let alone achieve life's goals.

On this occasion, Miss Wade forms part of a young creative team with award-winning director Bijan Sheibani and designer Paul Burgess who has created a necessarily practical but also attractive, modern setting. Add in some strong acting particularly from the ladies and you have the makings of a good evening.

Other Hands should sell well, particularly with the younger crowd that tend to populate Soho Theatre. They should easily identify and sympathise with one or more of the characters on stage before them.

It proves yet again that Laura Wade is a talented playwright, who currently specialises in small scale plays. Soon though, she must surely be tempted to ape, or even join, the Monsterists and write something ambitious for a larger cast, and this will offer a true measure of her prospects for long-term greatness.