'I Want To Hold Your Hand' reviews

United Reformed Church, Buxton. 7-21 July 2012

The theatre company that brought you 'Blitz Bride' present a delightful snapshot of life in 1963: Beatles, budgies and bunions.

Entering the United Reform Church to see 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' by Planet Rabbit audiences are quickly welcomed into a classic 'swinging 60s' abode, the care and attention to detail taken with set being immediately clear Lloyd loom chairs, an iconic wooden deer, and, of course, the Beatles poster create an immediate engagement with the character and- often yellow and orange-pattern of the family home.

It's clear then that the cast have to be similarly authentic and engaging. They don't disappoint. The only thing more vivid than the garish, vintage patterns is the 'Helter Skelter' of characters created by writer Claire Spratt and based on the real life anecdotes of Jean Butler and Annie Harahan. It's this feeling of 'real life' that gives 'Hold Your Hand' such a charming and, often touching, glow. From the moment Sylviann (played wonderfully companionably by Charlotte Mayer) greets the audience and begins to tell her story you don't feel as though you are watching a play as much as eavesdropping on the various corners and calamities of the flat above her parents' chiropodists' shop. The dialogue is persistently witty and often laugh-out-loud funny without appearing 'staged' and it's inevitable that everyone will find something timeless to empathise with whether its neighbourhood gossip over cups of tea, gushing over boys, catching a budgie or, the more exotic, shimmying up a drain pipe into your friend's room when it's very nearly her bedtime.

The latter is the domain of Pamela (Sarah Kearsley finding just the right balance of confidence and restraint in a role which could have been a little overpowering) Sylviann's 'exotic' new friend from London whose family arouse the suspicions of her mother Ruby and gran Peggy (Gayle Dennis and Ann Ridley respectively in a hilarious pair that will always leave you wanting more). The moment they reveal their wild theories about Pamela's parents has a real spark; it's one of the funniest moments of the play and a real highlight.

It's undeniable that Planet Rabbit have their very own 'Fab Four' here and, even if it weren't so, I can't stress enough that 'Hold your Hand' is worth seeing just for the characters of Barry and The Girl Guides with Barry in particular making an entrance nobody will forget in a hurry.

Sylviann's climactic trip to a Beatles concert is an absolute delight; Meyers' portrayal of teenage excitement is electric, infectious and extremely accurate whilst audiences experience the Beatles like they've never seen them before. This is soon followed by a sudden tender, serious moment (Dennis' performance is wonderfully moving here, and powerful commanding complete attention despite a, potentially very distracting, Valerie in the background). Mignon McLaughlin said that "people find it hard to be both comic and serious though life (and I can now add Planet Rabbit) manages it easily enough". This shade of sadness to balance out all the fun and games makes a wonderful ending to the play; it's executed brilliantly and, whilst being brief, is also incredibly touching reminding us that yesterday all our troubles didn't seem so far away after all.

Following this Sylviann's closing 'goodbye' may seem a little abrupt but that's a testament to how absorbed audiences become in this lovely story and extraordinary, everyday family. Faultlessly professional set changes and confidence and mastery with props mean that you're inclined to forget you're watching a play. Consequently you don't expect it to end and, I for one, didn't want it too either. Absolutely brilliant and well worth another 'Best Production' nomination for Planet Rabbit.

Lilly Posnett.

United Reformed Church, Buxton. 7-21 July 2012

As the title suggests, I Want To Hold Your Hand is a tea-cup drama set in the ‘60s, during the time when bands like The Beatles were at the height of their fame. Back-terrace family life, above a shop – the family chiropodist – is reflected in an elaborate set, all things chintzy and paisley. As a follow-up to writer and director Claire Spratt’s previous stage success Blitz Bride, I Want To Hold Your Hand is a twee, nostalgic throwback, enjoyed by a largely parochial audience who remember the era in which it was set. And yet, it proves to be highly insightful.

The lead character Sylviann (played by Charlotte Meyer) begins with a monologue, introducing us to her situation and family life. It's a very 'northern' affair, and the accents of the characters are unmistakably from the north-west of England. Sylviann is looked after – or rather, as a growing teenager, repressed – by her mother Ruby (Gayle Dennis) and grandmother Peggy (Ann Ridley). It's only when we are introduced to Pamela (Sarah Kearsley) that the delicate balance of family sensibility changes.

Pamela has moved up from London because her father is constantly changing jobs, a fact that arouses suspicion from the older generations. The spirit of the age, however, is captured by the rapport between Pamela and Sylviann. Pamela is the rambunctious one, Sylviann more sensible; there is a moment of delightful transgression when Pamela sneaks up the drainpipe of the side of the house to tempt Sylviann to go to a night-club. Sylviann's mother, Ruby, walks into the bedroom to foil the girls’ plan, only to be persuaded to mime a song by The Shadows with a mannequin leg from the chiropody.

The whole play is a similarly rich story, with moment after moment of playful mischief. Even the grandmother Peggy gets in on the jokes: "Why be a croupier when there's jobs in Woolworths?" she asks Pamela, an irony clearly appreciated by the audience. Peggy's role is defined by her witty comments, and her sideline taking in actors and actresses gives the piece an air of meta-theatre.

Claire Spratt, talking to me after, explained that the story was semiautobiographical, and events surrounding what took place were drawn from memory. Appropriately then, the set is littered with souvenirs and keep-sakes from a sentimental time, which bring about anecdote after anecdote as the story behind each bit of tit-for-tat is revealed. The play is built around a succession of novelties, such as a coffin-lid for an ironing board, a painted bath, or a commode-chair – all of which form conversation pieces in the narrative structure.

Written as a one-act play, I Want To Hold Your Hand creates a small world of gossip that would accurately portray the life and the times. It's good clean fun from start to finish, and therein lies part of its appeal. Most of all, I was intrigued and captivated by the play's authenticity – recreating the writer’s imagination, and confirming our own imaginations that these were special times.

It ends how it begins, with a monologue from Sylviann. Between these two tellings lies a world of intimacy, touched by candour.

Elijah James (Fringe Guru. 4 STARS)