REVIEW: The Whip Hand at the REP | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

REVIEW: The Whip Hand at the REP

Culture Critic Alice Kiff is impressed by the "gripping, complex and enthralling" production of The Whip Hand at the Birmingham REP

The Whip Hand at the Birmingham Rep is an explosive and deeply engaging burst of theatre. Commissioned by National Theatre Scotland, Douglas Maxwell’s refreshingly contemporary script has been brought to life by a very impressive cast of actors and a stellar production team. The Whip Hand is a dark and humorous exploration of modern family life. Dougie Bell arrives at the house of his ex-wife and her new husband to celebrate his fiftieth birthday with his children, family and friends, yet he has a bizarre announcement more surprising than anything anyone could have expected.

The play explores race privilege, love, abuse, trust, and guilt

The Whip Hand is reminiscent of Priestley’s time plays of the 1930s, where the play occurs in real time, every event on stage unfurling slowly and without pause. Maxwell uses time and pacing brilliantly, allowing all of the revelations and absurdities of the script to make their impact, driving the story at top speed towards an explosive conclusion.

Maxwell’s play explores race privilege, love, abuse, trust, and guilt, and holds class and modern race relations under an unforgiving lens, revealing the tremendously dark lengths to which people will go to defend their own, and to ease their guilt.

Louise Ludgate excels in her role as Arlene; the exasperated ex-wife of Douglas Bell who tries pitifully to bring some life and excitement into a progressively darkening, tense evening.

Maxwell’s piece is gripping, complex and enthralling

This production of the Whip Hand is engaging and exciting, but unlike the spectacular and polished set, the performances do require a little polishing still. The script is powerful and fiesty and as a result, when the actors go a little too far with it, it does come across as a little East-Endersy. Similarly, the characters are so deeply complex, especially Douglas Bell, that occasionally the switch from one side of the character to another can occur a little too quickly, resulting in a bit of mental whiplash at how a character’s personality can switch so quickly without any warning signs.

Overall however, the entire production team should be really proud of what they have achieved. Maxwell’s piece is gripping, complex and enthralling, and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Direct from the Fringe fest, The Whip Hand is running until the 16th September at the REP. For more information visit



8th September 2017 at 6:32 pm

Images from

Keith Monteith-Hodge