Outside the C Nova Theatre, the cast of Adam H Wells’ The Hand Me Down People enthusiastically warm up; the energy exhibited here seeping into their performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A toy story with a twist, characters and the audience alike are left waiting for a happy ending. 

‘Once upon a time life was alright.’ Abandoned on a dusty shelf, the toys that were once pride possessions of their owners now sit purposeless, hope teasing their existence. The concept may seem familiar but Wells, an established writer and director within the New Theatre, is successful in bringing a fresh perspective; a darker undercurrent running through the plot. Waiting to be taken down from the shelf is not the only way down. Every fairytale needs a princess but here only traces of her highness remain, mystery surrounding her abrupt departure from the shelf. With the arrival of a new toy, these issues are bought to the forefront along with themes of ageing, nostalgia and death.

Although there were several children in the audience, this is certainly a play for all ages, reflecting on aspects of life we all fear such as being replaced and feeling unloved. Occasionally slow in places, it is the characters that keep the audience’s attention throughout. More of a pissed off Piper than pied, Rob Leventhall’s bitter ridden performance sets the tone for life on the shelf, moments of his caring nature shining through his memories with Princess (Kerry Stevenson). Given snapshots of Princess’ long shelf life, Stevenson successfully gives us an insight into the character’s despairing mindset.

A subplot reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, the relationship between Doll (Georgina Norie) and Monster (Conrad Cohen), warts and all, the two play off one another to provide some light relief from the rest of the play, Cohen especially loveable while Norie shows there is more to depth to Doll beneath the plastic. Despite Jess Courtney’s multiple characters suffering from ‘supporting cast syndrome’, Courtney herself does not display any symptoms of this within the play; the transition from Witch to Grandma to Enchantress flawless, a change of stance, voice and manner clearly portraying each role.

A broken music box provides a looping soundtrack for the tale, a live performance given from Alice Ratcliffe, impressing the audience by keeping up this cheery melodic never ending tune for the duration of the performance. No words needed to express her feelings, the music itself seems to mock the lives the toys actually lead. Far far away from the comfort of the toy box, the furniture they are provided with is nowhere near luxury (the closest they come to owning an ornament being a broken pencil) but the set is cleverly constructed magnifying everyday objects to give us an idea of the scale of the performance.

Handed down from Nottingham to Edinburgh The Hand Me Down People certainly does not lose any value, displaying an array of talent in all aspects of performance, a play for all the family…a quality that comes in handy at the Fringe.

Kiran Benawra

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