Review: Sparkling wit and sadness in The Hand-Me-Down People

Anyone who discarded an old toy when they were younger, or perhaps neglected to visit an elderly relative, may feel a pang of guilt watching The Hand-Me-Down People, a piece of drama which Nottingham University’s New Theatre will be taking up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this week.

The play, written by Adam H. Wells, gives literal meaning to the term ‘on the shelf’. On this dusty shelf is a group of toys which have been discarded by the children in favour of something more exciting. There’s the grotesque-looking but benign Witch and Monster, the slightly spoilt Princess and Doll and the Prince who has had half of his face and arm chewed off by the dog.

For all its sparkling wit, a sadness hangs heavy in the air. Some of the toys are desperate to escape the nothingness of living on the shelf and want to jump down in the hope that the children will start to play with them again. Others are resigned to their fate observing that while their lives are not getting any better, at least they are not getting any worse.

Here are a group of disparate individuals who don’t have anything in common with each other apart from the fact that no-one wants them. There is a real sense of neglect and soul-sapping boredom alluding perhaps to life in a care home. Perhaps most poignantly, the characters all long to be part of stories again. They look to the outside but can’t reach it so instead they have to create their own narratives within the confines of the shelf.

The play, which previewed at Nottingham University on Thursday, is elevated further by the vibrant costumes and the attention to detail in the set design. It is sound tracked by the dainty sound of a music box which plays throughout and which the characters find at once comforting and frustrating. Like Porphyria, this production showcases the talents of everyone involved and I wish everyone all the best for the Fringe.

You can see The Hand-Me-Down People at C Nova, India Buildings, Victoria Street, Edinburgh between 2nd and 27th August. For details see the website.

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