Hand Me Down at the Tristan Bates Theatre is a compelling, one-woman show, co-created by Steve Gilroy and Kate Craddock, who performed the piece. Rarely have I come away from a theatre show with such a sense of warmth and the simple pleasure of having been really well entertained for just over an hour. The performance began as the audience entered the space: we were warmly welcomed in by the first of Kate Craddock’s creations, a slightly eccentric but well-meaning charity shop volunteer, who handed out raffle tickets as we took our seats.
It was instantly clear that we as an audience were an important part of the piece, and while what you may think of as ‘audience participation’ as such was not demanded of us, we were kept busy by helping Craddock to create different scenarios by holding certain props, or even by singing together and snapping our fingers in time. Craddock achieved this by creating an incredible rapport with the audience that she managed to maintain as she slipped effortlessly between roles, portraying characters of different backgrounds, ages and accents all with equal conviction. The uniting factor of each character was a desire to be understood, and so we were called upon to follow along with their argument or story, and bantered with or prodded at necessary interludes. Music was also used cleverly to bring the audience in as we were invited to consider the effectiveness of a few hit charity anthems – and were treated to a couple of live performances as well.
Hand Me Down’s overall concept was about the meaning of giving and receiving, and how different people interpret this. One character’s enthusiasm for the ‘New Society’ and being keen to “do her bit”, was balanced against another character’s firm conviction that “nobody does anything good without getting something in return”, all arguments conveyed with humour that didn’t belie the substance.
Tanya Axford’s deceptively simple set was a convincing charity shop set-up of a couple of rails of clothing and a curtain that could be craftily transformed to recreate different scenarios and introduce other imaginary characters for Craddock to bounce off.
The lighting by Kevin Tweedy complemented this versatile set-up very effectively, transforming the set to change the scene. All objects on stage are either Craddock’s own hand-me-downs or are purchased from charity shops, and the bittersweet backstories of objects like these formed another dimension to the piece; from playfully dancing with suits on coathangers spun wildly on the clothing rails with an impromptu mirrorball to recreate a ball scene, to clinging desperately for life to a rail inside a cramped vehicle.
Craddock may have had us laughing and singing along with her throughout, but there were some shocking moments that were all the more effective for their contrast with the general light tone of the show. A multi-dimensional and thought-provoking piece that hinges on the audience being able to sympathise and become involved with the characters through Craddock’s wonderful humorous and endearing performance.
Hand Me Down is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 2nd July. For more information and tickets, see the website here.