DramaNorth WestReview

Handle with Care – The Lowry, Salford

Writer: Chloe Moss
Director: Daphna Attics

Reviewer: Richard Hall

 

The Lowry’s inspired Week 53 Festival continues with this stunning piece of immersive theatre. A writer of exceptional quality, Chloe Moss lays bare the early life and formative years of Zoe, a modern-day everywoman for the late 20th- and early 21st-Centuries.

In groups of 10, the audience first meets Zoe as a young girl, as she helps her brother prepare to go backpacking – an adventure that he sadly never returns from. In just under two hours real time the audience spends almost 30 years in Zoe’s company and, by the end of the performance, has shared not only in her joy and pain but has also instinctively begun to second guess what will happen next in her life.

This wonderful show is part fly-on-the-wall experience and part contemporary Greek tragedy. Along the way, the audience meets the people who shape and also damage Zoe’s life and as played by two actresses, see her gradually transform from a naive teenager to a strong-willed, independent woman.

Immersive, site-specific theatre is pretty much on-trend at the moment and part of the attraction of attending a show like this is seeing how it will play out in its unconventional surroundings. Dante or Die, who produce this production in association with The Lowry, has for its short run taken over two floors of the Ready Steady Storage Facility at the Worsley Industrial Estate. The setting proves to be perfect for playing out the various episodes that make up Zoe’s fractured life story.

The audience watches the action in close proximity, not as participants but as they are very clearly told before the production begins, (accompanied by The Traveling Wilburys’ Handle With Care), as voyeurs. They meet Zoe at the different stages of her life in lock-ups and corridors that are adorned and cluttered with some of her most precious possessions. Over time, as they get to know Zoe, the audience learns the real meaning and full value that she places on these.

There is something unique and very special about this production that makes it stand out from the rest. From beginning to end, the show blends in perfectly with its surroundings; it feels neither out of place nor gimmicky to be observing every nuance of Zoe’s life played out in a safe storage facility. There is a level of honesty and sincerity about the portrayal of the characters and, in particular, the life journey that Zoe goes on that is profoundly moving and something rarely experienced watching theatre in more conventional spaces.

The role of Zoe is shared by Amy Dolan and Rachael Spence. Each is outstanding in conveying Zoe’s fragility and vulnerability. It is a huge credit to both actresses that the change over from young to older Zoe is seamless and feels completely in keeping with the style of the production. In part, this is due to the excellent choreography and manipulation of the actors and audience around the space and the wonderful attention paid to period detail by designer Jenny Hayton.

With the Week 53 Festival, The Lowry has proved itself as not only a premier receiving house but, with shows like this, also producers and curators of some of the most innovative and provocative theatre to be seen anywhere in the UK.

Handle With Care is a show that not only changes perceptions of what theatre is and can be but also as the Festival publicity claims, ‘challenges convention and celebrates creativity.’ If you only see one show this year I strongly recommend you make sure that it is this one.

Runs until 8 May 2016 | Image: Contributed

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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