arlene and lorenzo

Louise Ludgate as Arlene and  Richard Conlon as Lorenzo. Pictures: David Monteith-Hodge

The Whip Hand

Birmingham Rep Door


Douglas Maxwell’s The Whip Hand is a world premiere production. After brilliant reviews at Edinburgh this year, his striking and pulsating work is being performed at The Door in Birmingham REP in an association with National Theatre of Scotland.

The play is a naturalistic social drama set in the living room of a Scottish family. The setting is for Dougie’s Fiftieth Birthday and he announces that an email has revealed that he is the last descendent of a plantation owner, heavily involved in slavery.

The email requests a sum of money that compensates families for the atrocities of the past. When Dougie asks his family to help, the gathering quickly turns into sour conversation which reveals the purpose of finding a higher meaning in life and the power over the choices we make.

Maxwell’s script is strikingly funny at first, with classic one-liners and pure Scottish humour. It feels light hearted and comfortable and Natasha Jenkins’ set makes the atmosphere homely, with a perfectly natural feel of a modern living room. Maxwell then slowly reveals the dark secrets of each character like a funnel, bringing out with it questions of morality and knowing what is right.

The night draws out with secrets that each character is desperate to reveal about the other. The modern setting of Arlene and Lorenzo’s living room is so unassuming of the worldly conversation that changes the course of each character’s life in one sitting.

The hidden meaning behind what is meant to be a family conversation during Dougie’s Fiftieth Birthday celebration brings out the very purpose of human existence.


Jonathan Watson as birthday-boy Dougie

Maxwell shows that everyone is simultaneously innocent and guilty with a rich and stirring script. At the very moment where one starts to feel sympathy for a character, another snatches it away to reveal a horrid truth.

The production becomes thicker with tension with every line and each character has their own agenda – which is at the detriment to another. This makes the play ultimately about the fight for power, yet everyone loses. Much like the world around us, everyone thinks that they are right and the word sorry acts as a precious stone, with each person fighting to protect it.

The cast are constantly on stage, so they cannot escape the secrets they are hiding. Director Tessa Walker highlights Maxwell’s superb ability to reveal the most shocking secrets with perfect timing. By revealing each character’s motive and secret one by one, nobody is left until all faults are revealed with disastrous consequences. 

Each actor is a wonderful testament to Maxwell’s writing and Walker’s dynamic vision. Michael Abubakar as Aaron is delightful within the role. He brings an innocent sense of sympathy as if to say that he is the only character not at fault and that his wrong actions are justified. Louise Ludgate and Jonathan Watson are perfect together as ex-husband and wife Arlene and Dougie.

Their inter-communication and unresolved history is fascinating to watch as they hold the stage with fantastic attitude and talent. The very dynamic that Dougie has come to celebrate his Birthday at his ex-wife’s home is one thing, but for his ex-wife’s new partner to be there is another. Richard Conlon is brilliant as the cool Lorenzo, who seems like the easy-going character in the middle, but even he is not incapable of falling into the trap of wrongdoing. The bright student Molly is torn between her moral thoughts and instant emotions and Joanne Thomson is fantastic within this role.

It is a delightful play that reveals the dark questions of human behaviour and a need for social power. The cast of five, through Maxwell’s exciting writing, reveal a history of human kind to ask us about our personal choices in life. Through the twisting narrative of script and the deconstruction of each character’s actions, Maxwell shows the consequences of the choices we make in our daily lives and the paths we choose for our future. To 16-09-17

Elizabeth Halpin


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