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All Hands Were Clapping!

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One Hand Clapping, Friday, 15th March, International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Words by Alex Martin

A dimly lit stage with the buzzing static of a television to light the space. This was an unusual Friday night for me, one that would turn out to be entertaining, funny and consistently thought-provoking, all due to Lucia Cox’s stunning adaptation of One Hand Clapping at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. The audience was buzzing as we waited to go in, milling around with the kind of quiet excitement that always comes before a truly great performance; an infectious atmosphere that left me itching to see the play, and it did not disappoint!

Eve Burley & Oliver Devoti


A chair, a bookcase, a trunk and several well placed televisions make up the stage of One Hand Clapping, but in viewing the performance, I found myself in awe at the simple power of clever lighting and even the smallest props that were involved. The set, designed by Meriel Pym’s, was incredible – honestly, I could go on about this set for hours – even a couple of books became hugely important to the performance, and props such as a simple armchair and a rather memorable large trunk were as vital to the play as much as the actors! This attention to minute detail did wonders for the stage; anyone who has been to the Burgess Foundation knows that the stage has the potential to be quite limiting, but in this case I believed it immensely, and was thrilled at the clever ways that the televisions managed to transport me beyond the living-room setup.  


One Hand Clapping, based on the Burgess novel of the same name, shows us the story of Janet and Howard Shirley, told retrospectively through the eyes of Janet. It appears innocent enough until it is revealed that Howard has a rather unusual gift; he has a photographic memory, and a strange ability to predict the future, and uses this to his advantage on a popular quiz show to win a large sum of money. The play then follows how the couple goes about spending this money, and despite the light premise, maintains a dark tone throughout. That said, it is consistently funny, and raised more than a few laughs from the audience! I’ll admit that the plot was a mystery to me when I sat down for the performance – One Hand Clapping was not a novel that I was immensely familiar with. Still, I found myself dying to buy a copy once I had seen this spectacular version of it. The plot, the characters, everything about it drew me in. As if blessed with Howard Shirley’s foresight, the IABF were selling copies of the book for only a fiver before and after the performance, so needless to say, I gravitated there!

Adam Urey, Oliver Devoti & Eve Burley

The performances of the three actors of the play were extremely impressive, constantly keeping the plot going and adding their own unique twists to their lines and movements on stage. Eve Burley, as Janet, constantly drew attention, particularly with a flawless opening monologue that instantly set the pace for the remainder of the play; fast, witty, and always entertaining. Oliver Devoti brought Howard’s awkward and slightly sinister personality to life, always perfectly in character and playing the final dark twist in a cool and almost comically calm manner. It was Adam Urey, however, that stole the show for me. He played the parts of Laddie O’Neill and Redvers Glass, both of which are hilariously funny and brilliantly silly – wonderful contrasts to the character of Howard! The quiz show moments in particular (where Laddie O’Neill is the presenter) stood out for the pure cheesy quality of it, and had most of the audience roaring with laughter.

From start to finish, over the course of an hour and a half, One Hand Clapping had my undivided attention. For the cheap price (only £6!), the charming venue and the fantastic performances, I’d call it a night well spent. In fact, I think if I could go back I’d watch it all over again!
Alex is an English Literature student at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is passionate about good coffee, boring films and ridiculously long books. She would like her writing to be seen and hopefully one day be published. Follow her on Twitter @aalexjm

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  1. Pebbleddash 20th March 2013 at 8:29 am -  Reply

    I completely agree with everything here Alex! It really was beyond my expectations. I really do hope Lucia is able to put it on again, three nights were definitely not enough.

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