All you’d have to do is play ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ and The Hand-Me-Down People could be facing a copyright battle with the makers of Toy Story. The story is very similar but with different characters, which are less adventuring and more contemplative.
Five characters have been confined to the shelf because they aren’t played with anymore. Rather than stay there for years hoping to be played with again, or one day being thrown away, they spend the play contemplating whether to end it now i.e. jump off the shelf. And who knows, they could live. But this play is more pessimistic than it is optimistic, and it strikes me now that this is practically a show about suicidal toys. The problem is I don’t care whether they jump or not, it’s simply a very boring play from writer, Adam H. Wells.
These are very simple characters – the hero, the monster, the princess – but even these stereotypes aren’t developed much. Every one of them suffers mood swings between hopeful and hopeless, so they all just seem like reflections of one another rather than individuals. The Monster (Conrad Cohen) has a more interesting facet to his character as the man who wishes he was the romantic hero, as does the hero himself, the Piper (Robert Leventhal) who has the most valid reason for jumping: because the princess he loved died. His character is the only constructive one, having been chewed on by a dog, he now only has one arm and a maimed face. His is a genuine sadness compared with the other one-dimensional characters around him. His disability could link into greater issues regarding his argument for suicide and the way others treat him, but it doesn’t because Adam Wells’ writing is flat.
There is one brilliant idea from Wells (who also directs) in this production and that’s the music box. Alice Radcliffe (who’s musical stamina and expressive eyes make me wish she could have just one line) plays the same tune throughout the play sat in a music box and sitting through it themselves, the audience can really understand how this incessant tune frustrates the toys on the shelf. Rachel Kennedy’s set, with its oversized dice, fly, pencil etc. dotted around the stage, is a novel idea to make the actors look smaller, but like the script, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the production.
There are so many (non Toy Story-like directions) this play could travel in. But it’s not just static, but extremely repetitive. The Hand-Me-Down People is lacking something in every respect. It feels like Wells just didn’t try to leap from the shelf, and wrote a very safe play that already feels resigned to being left on someone’s shelf, never to be picked up, read, and loved.
** – 2/5 stars
The Hand-Me-Down People is playing at C Nova until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.