Pluck. Productions, an emerging company comprised of actor-producers, EJ Martin and Philip Honeywell, claims its founders “got tired of waiting for the work they wanted to see,” and so decided to make it themselves. Clap Hands, currently running at Hackney Downs Studios, is their second production, and while the company’s zeal is certainly admirable, one has to question what kind of work it was they felt they were missing, given that this production leaves a lot to be desired.
Clap Hands, a new play by Aaron Hubbard, tells the story of siblings, Ana (EJ Martin) and Gogol (Philip Honeywell). Their mother has kept them locked in the basement for almost 15 years, and while Ana still dotes on Mumsy (Clare Almond) and wiles away the long hours in captivity by singing along to the record player, Gogol has had enough. Gogol convinces Ana to kill their mother, and thanks to her incredible naivety, Ana more than happily goes along with the plan and strangles her, whereupon Gogol conspires to stitch her up.
Unfortunately, Gogol’s dastardly nature and his cruel intentions are apparent from the first moments of the play, thanks to an incredibly demonstrative and overwrought performance from Honeywell, immediately dissipating any possible sense of intrigue. Indeed, Honeywell and Martin give us little to like or care for where there is some potential with these characters, but instead they shout and stomp their way through the performance. The acting is rife with insincerity, with even poor Mumsy playing dead one moment and hopping up to help with clumsy set changes the next.
The second half of the play takes the form of an overly long and implausible interrogation scene, where Inspector Olyphant (Jeremy Drakes) goes between Ana and Gogol, using a fake white rabbit to set them up. Don’t ask. Then he puts on a strange grey mask, straps them both to the bottom an upturned bed using refashioned belts, and euthanises them. It turns out that Ana and Gogol were in the basement because Mumsy was protecting them, since years before they’d committed some kind of heinous crime against the town’s children which neither of them remember. Again, don’t ask.
I want to give the company marks for effort, I really do: it’s not easy to gather the resources to put something on in London these days, and getting up and doing it takes balls as the company name, Pluck., suggests. But in many ways the production tries too hard, with these one-dimensional and frankly amateur performances, and trying to make plausible this strange script with more gaps in its logic than a sponge. And in other respects it hasn’t tried hard enough, with sloppy direction and design which immediately signal that the production’s not to be taken seriously.
Clap Hands makes for a trying night at the theatre, with little to redeem it. Indeed, if the founders of Pluck. are tired of waiting for the work they wanted to see, as they say, then this reviewer is exhausted.
Clap Hands is playing at the Hackney Showroom until 25 July. For more information and tickets, see the Hackney Showroom website. Photo by Hackney Showroom.