Pros: A slick and evocative multimedia production. Bravely and pristinely acted.
Cons: The narrated sections, though expressed clearly, were a little over detailed and therefore hard to imagine.
Put Your Sweet Hand in Mine takes place in a dimly lit room tucked away at the back of the Battersea Arts Centre. The set, comprised of two rows of chairs facing each other, is designed to resemble a carriage on the Paris Metro. The distance between the rows is disconcertingly close. Overhead runs a single line of bare bulbs. The creators and performers of the piece, Andy Field and Ira Brand, are daringly seated among the audience. Their job is to guide their ‘commuters’ through an hour-long meditation on the highs and lows of love and what this might lead to.
The production is well paced and seamlessly performed throughout, using a heap of neat techniques and devices. The actors switch between using their natural voice and a microphone, as well as between directing the audience and talking to each other. They leap to and from their seats to either end of the aisle, acting in character as strangers who meet on a train and fall in love. There’s an extensive blackout so the audience can imagine what this couple’s love is like (and perhaps their own too). To help this along, there’s the sound of birds, a raging storm, a pop music love anthem. And ice cubes, dripping water, and very wet clothes.
The funniest moment is during a bird watching session hosted by Brand, who displays admirable skill in chatting incessantly without faultering. Text appears on a screen above her, displaying the thoughts we think when we zone out. This device makes the point that while we are somewhere, our brains are often somewhere else. The most thrilling and convincing moment is a storm scene where the thunder rips through the air and the lovers are at either end of the carriage, soaked and shouting, trying to communicate, desperate to be heard. When all is done, we’re back where we began, on a train, looking across at a stranger, but with a new appreciation and – one hopes – a willingness to reach out and connect.
I must confess that I’m not a huge fan of active participation as an audience member. I like to sit back and let a performance work its magic, without the worry of being observed. But the demands of this show were not huge. And it clearly wants you to laugh about some of the social anxieties that come with engaging with strangers in too close a proximity, where anywhere you look or any movement you make is loaded with implication.
Overall, I felt that the all-embracing theme of love was a bit of a reach. To focus on an aspect of love, in either the characters or the audience, would have been enough. Only in the last moments of the play does the title reveal itself. Sadly, I didn’t gain any great insight about love or myself or any of the other audience members. Since the show was so well put together and performed, I hope others felt differently.
Battersea Arts Centre is worthy venue for a performance that does its best to direct you towards your inward feelings. There’s something of a ghostly feel to this rundown and part-renovated old town hall that provokes the imagination. It also has a quirky bar space. I arrived with enough time to sit and enjoy a pint of Noble, an English craft beer that’s well worth a try. Some slate boards decorate the walls. On one of them was chalked ‘Ceniscillaphobia’. Below was written its definition, ‘the fear of having an empty beer glass’. A diagnosis, as well as a good night out!
Authors: Andy Field and Ira Brand
Dramaturge: James Stenhouse
Producer: Beckie Darlington
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/31503/see_whats_on/current_shows/cook_up/put_your_sweet_hand_in_mine_
Booking Until: 22nd February 2014