The Whip Hand ****

Traverse

15th to 20th, 22nd to 27th

Times vary

The implausibility of the scenario is the weak point of leading Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell’s new work.

In my extensive personal experience of middle aged, down on their luck, working class men it is just not believable that they would consider under any circumstance giving away their much loved only daughter’s university fund for any cause. But that is what the main character Dougie wants to do after being approached by a dubious organisation informing him that he is descended from a man who made his fortune through slavery and that the moral thing to do would be to make reparations to the slaves’ descendants.  The play centres around his attempt to persuade his ex wife to agree to sign over the £25 thousand pounds they have in trust for their daughter.

 

Scotland’s role in empire and slavery is often glossed over; we prefer to think of ourselves as being minor players in that part of history. It’s right that we should be having a discussion as a nation about our past, but this is a very clumsy device to present the subject. But if you can put that behind you, and I did, this play is a wonderfully nuanced examination of class, family and race with clever laughs , real dramatic tension and real characters I recognise.

 

Right from the start you can sense Dougie (Jonathon Watson) seething with resentment under his humble , almost obsequious manner as he goes to celebrate his 50th birthday with his daughter, nephew, ex wife and her present husband.

Arlene ( Louise Ludgate ) is pitch perfect as the working class woman who’s done well for herself since leaving Dougie behind. The character of Lorenzo (Richard Conlon) her current partner stops just short of being a stereotypical liberal, non confrontational middle class hipster ( he drinks chocolate chilli craft beer so we get the picture)

The two men bend over backward to be pleasant to each other but as the drama unfolds the cracks show and Arlene drops her middle class façade. The two young actors Joanne Thompson and Michael Abubakar are totally convincing as the cosseted Molly and troubled Aaron .

In the end the writing of the characters and the excellent performances are enough to enable the audience to suspend belief and enjoy this thrilling work.

Carena Brogan