There are always multiple perspectives on an individual’s actions within an event. At Hackney Showroom, one of the newest London fringe venues that oozes industrial hipster chic, Pluck. Productions drives this home with a dense, character-driven one act. In a tiny studio space that only seats 20 people, Clap Hands by Aaron Hubbard poses questions about human behaviour and cause and effect. Can children be inherently disturbed? Should they be locked away for endangering others? Does over-reactionary imprisonment for childish behaviour cause derangement? Or, are we all just pure evil?
Ana (EJ Martin) and Gogol (Philip Honeywell) are brother and sister, kept in a basement bedroom by their mother. Martin convincingly plays young Ana without generalising or playing at being a child. She imbeds the innocence, spontaneity and obsessions in her characterisation, which is an excellent contrast to Honeywell’s creepy, calculating teenaged Gogol. Gogol has an obvious agenda that Ana doesn’t see, so she is easily manipulated into carrying out his insidious plans for freedom. The adult Detective Olyphant (Jeremy Drakes) is the sole representative of the wider community who hints at past offenses that led to Ana and Gogol’s confinement for the last 15 years. As he slowly questions the children, the audience begins to wonder what is real and what is the product of manipulation. Are the adults tyrannical, or are the children? The length of imprisonment also brings Ana’s age into question. Was she born into it recently, or has isolation from a young age kept her in a childish state? A horrifying ending effectively places blame with all parties, showing that juvenile crime, justice and society’s treatment of “The Other” are all complex issues with many sides to each individual case.
Even though the play only runs at an hour and a quarter, it packs numerous interrelated themes. Despite this, it isn’t over-saturated. The excellent performances and energy keep the first half of the play building nicely until the climactic middle when Ana carries out a crime Gogol planned without understanding what she’s doing or the consequences. From this point, the second half is slower. Olyphant’s investigations gradually reveal more of the characters’ history, but the slowing pace causes attention to waver, determining the first half as the stronger. A couple of Neil LaBute-style shocks enhance the thread of human depravity that runs through the piece, but the ending removes it from any contemporary British reality. It feels firmly 1970’s – 1980’s until the final scene, then becomes something not quite dystopian. The disorientation it causes could be a deliberate choice by the writer, but it does eliminate cultural context. The shock is effective, but removing the specific setting weakens the message about societal decay.
Despite the additional questions the play raises at the end, it is otherwise an excellent piece of writing with a stellar cast. Pluck. Productions are a prime example of the just how good theatre can be when experienced practitioners decide to make the work they want to do rather than relying on others to create work for them.
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