Review: On the Other Hand, West Yorkshire Playhouse

The latest production from Leeds-based theatre company Paper Birds is an affecting – and often humorous – exploration of the ageing process, told from a female perspective.

On The One Hand.  Photo: Richard Davenport
On The One Hand. Photo: Richard Davenport

On the One Hand examines the issues that arise at various points in a woman’s life and considers the way in which women are still expected by society to fulfil certain expectations. Represented on stage by four actresses are what could be termed the six ‘ages of woman’ – Teenager, Thirties, Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Elderly. We don’t see Fifties, only hear her in voiceover – quite apt since her character is an actress who, because of her age, is no longer getting the roles she once did – while Sixties and Elderly are played, superbly, by one actress.

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Each of the women has reached a pivotal moment in her life – Teenager is just about to leave her single mother behind and head off to university; Thirties has been deeply affected by the early death of a close friend and has decided to leave her good job and nice boyfriend and travel the world; Forties is trying to keep a new business afloat while also being called upon by other cast members to play various other roles in a clever reference to the kind of ‘juggling’ that many women in their forties are required to do on a daily basis; Fifties is struggling with the realisation that her acting career is in decline; while Sixties is attempting to balance work with being a carer for her elderly mother who is beginning to lose her identity through memory loss.

The performances are, without exception, outstanding while the combination of physical theatre, spare dialogue, dry humour, a haunting musical score and an imaginative set that brings together several domestic spaces into one structure all add up to a hugely satisfying, powerful and thought-provoking piece of theatre.