Review: Hand To God by Robert Askins directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.
No doubt spurred by the political climate, Hand to God is all the rage in the US. It offended the conservative sensibilities of the English when it transferred to the West End last year, and now it has turned up in Wellington.
Side-splittingly funny to the point of being tears-rolling-down-cheeks hysterical, Robert Askins’ play is raunchy and irreverent but also a dark, cruel and nasty play that expertly combines the use of puppets with human characters. And gauging from the reaction of the first night audience of Circa Theatre’s production, it’s going to be a hit here.
And making it such a fascinating production is due in no small part to the direction of Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and her superb cast.
On Ian Harman’s multi-functional set that works a treat, a highly-energised cast act out the story of how things go awry with the hand puppet of one of the participants at a Christian Puppet Ministry class in the devoutly religious Texan town of Cypress.
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All appears well at first among the group: meek and mild Jason (Tom Clarke), his uptight and repressed mom Margery (Amy Tarleton), who runs the class, innocent-girl-next-door Jessica (Hannah Banks) local bully boy Timothy (Jack Buchanan) and Pastor Greg (Peter Hambleton). But it’s obvious that tensions and repressed feelings are bubbling away underneath, occasionally brought to the surface in rather startling and candid ways.
But not until Jason’s hand puppet Tyrone takes on a foul-mouthed and aggressive life of its own that things start to really hot up for all concerned. The others say it’s possessed by the devil, but in fact it’s Jason’s repressed alter ego finally letting loose. Jessica’s hand puppet Jolene also gets in on the act in a scene with Tyrone that is one of the play’s many highlights.
The combination of the puppets acting and interacting with the human characters is the play’s unique characteristic and the way the actors handle this is masterful, especially Clarke as he switches from the wide-eyed innocence of Jason to the antagonistic Tyrone.
While it could be considered rude, crude, and over the top, it does say something about the human condition, albeit superficially. Most of all it is incredibly entertaining like nothing seen here in a long while and for that reason alone, is a must-see show.
Circa Theatre, Wellington, to May 20.