On the One Hand @ Northern Stage at St Stephen's
The Leeds-based Paper Birds company is well known for its devised shows and celebrates its 10th anniversary with this charming, inventive and touching show about a search for female identity from the perspective of different generations, from school-leavers to old age.
Performed by four actors and one voice-over, the show involves them swapping parts at times as they clamber over the furniture, some of which is suspended inside a box set, and that too takes on multiple personalities. A multiplicity of voices and of course, hands weave in and out, telling different parallel stories: the lonely girl at university, the first in her family to go; the gap-year traveller. Both are unsure they have made the right choices, torn between a fear of missing out and a desperate need to reconnect with their mother, who no longer sees herself as 'mother' but is developing a career of her own. The older and oldest generations are the most moving as the granny confronts her failing body and her own mother's failing mind.
The show playfully draws attention to its essential reality as a theatrical construct: miming (particularly graphic were the hand movements suggesting thoughts sparking over synapses or failing in dementia) but the symbolism of hands rather got lost in a plethora of other themes and images. Like much devised theatre, this is rich and brimming with ideas, scenes and characters, but lacks a strong focus and could do with some tightening. [Stephanie Green]