Mountains of anonymous boxes, furniture, clothes, sentimental shirts and cans of aftershave – Handle With Care is a site specific play set in a series of storage units that takes the audience on the journey of Zoe’s turbulent life. As we follow her through the play we see her evolve and change along with the accumulation of her belongings.
A certain level of apprehension and anxiety always tends to linger in the air when attending site specific theatre. When being led down a dark alley in Old street, you cannot help but continue to remind yourself that you are in capable hands; that will not harm you. This orchestrated anxiety is exhilarating, yet is sometimes frustrating interrupted. The audience is guided to the units, then stopped for two minutes to listen to an awkward health and safety announcement. Before the first door opens and even before we meet Zoe, the illusion has been crushed and we are simply an audience in a storage unit with miscellaneous rat traps in every passage.
We are met by Zoe and her brother Miki as they pack up his things before he sets off on his travels, a trip Zoe hopes to join him on in the future. The relationship is not clear from the outset, whether it is romantic, one of friendship or family. With a mention of ‘mother’ and non-disclosure of Miki’s sexual orientation it is now clear that they are siblings, however the characterisation of this could be made clearer by the two actors. It is now very clear that Miki is gay from this point forward as his character suddenly develops camp characteristics, which were not there before. To end the scene and contine the tale of Zoe’s life, Miki strips down to his underwear, fades into one of the passageways with his movement slowed down to signify the end of scene and the next transition of Zoe’s life.
From here on in we witness Zoe seek love and acceptance through the next series of units; abusive relationships, raves, babies and white rabbits which leaves the audience a little bit confused as to what exactly we are witnessing. The smorgasbord of Alice in Wonderland meets Trainspotting and Desperate Housewives seems careless and almost too easy. The progression of the story is all very predictable and tedious as the audience desperately waits for Zoe to end the scene with another slowed series of movements as we make our way through to the next stage of her (unfortunately) repetitive life.
I found it incredibly difficult to care about Zoe, or any of the characters throughout the ninety minutes, as it felt from the outset that this production wanted to appear to be edgy and alternative. This lead to Zoe’s story being smothered. The desperate bid to be relatable with well known music tracks throughout the decades felt like an easy win to ignite sensory memory in the audience members. In fact, the whole production felt like it had been constructed in a manipulative approach to trigger memories, but not tell a life story, which I had believed I was there to see. With cheap laughs used in sitting on audience members and handing them objects, the eagerness to appear post-dramatic was too obvious to find enjoyment from.
The overall concept had the potential to bring the audience on one woman’s personal journey, but it all felt very forced and contrived. After Zoe leaves the audience locked in the last unit, we were invited to sift through her things and decide what we thought should be kept or thrown in the bin. I chose the bin every time.
Handle with care is on until the 25 June. The audience for the production meet at The Draft House Pub, EC1V 9NR. For more information and tickets see the Dante or Die website.