The Whip Hand @ Traverse Theatre

Douglas Maxwell’s new play offers an insightful critique of power, obligation, and the lies we tell each other to bury the past

Review by Cat Acheson | 08 Aug 2017
  • Michael Abubakar, Jonathan Watson and Joanne Thomson in 'The Whip Hand'

No matter how prepared you think you are for Douglas Maxwell’s explosive new work, The Whip Hand, it’s guaranteed to leave you reeling. The play spirals from one unexpected development to the next, and no stone is left unturned as a complex and fragile family dynamic is laid bare in all its failings.

What begins as an innocent birthday celebration for 50-year-old Dougie (played by Jonathan Watson) quickly takes an unexpected turn, as the underachieving divorcee reveals a bold new idea to give something back to the world and atone for the wrongdoings of the past. The brilliance of this play is that it keeps the audience guessing to the end, as questions of national responsibility and family history mutate to reveal dark and shameful personal secrets. The play offers an insightful critique of power, obligation, and the lies we tell each other and ourselves when we attempt to bury the past.   

The humour and wit of Maxwell’s script hit the mark perfectly, and yet the deeper sense of trauma behind the gags is equally hard-hitting. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but the cast deliver powerful and convincing performances that are more than a match for such challenging and multifaceted material. The tension only builds and builds, as one fault line after another is brought to light in the family’s plush living room. The play’s shocking conclusion is intelligent and well-executed, and resists becoming melodramatic. What we are left with is a funny and uncomfortable reminder of how our fuck-ups, just like our families, never really leave us.  

The Whip Hand, Traverse Theatre, until 27 Aug (not 14 or 21 Aug), times vary, £9.50-21.50