Review : Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

The world is going to hell in a handbasket and Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) knows that perhaps better than anyone. Not only does he have a photographic memory, but he is clairvoyant so Howard – if anyone would - knows the center is not holding and it might be time for him and his wife to check out. In an impassioned plea, Howard tells his wife Janet (Eve Burley), “It’s a rotten world, love. We gave it a chance. We fed money into it like it was a big machine and it paid out nothing. And it’s all collapsing all around us, decaying with rottenness. It won’t last much longer if it goes on as it is going on. It’ll be finished soon.” 

Using his extraordinary powers, Howard amasses enough money to buy Janet the things he feels she deserves and to travel to the United States with her before returning home and disclosing his plan to execute a suicide pact to remove the couple from the “one big disappointment” of life. “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns) and Howard’s well thought out scheme fails in the end (but not to his end) as “One Hand Clapping” concludes. This failure is the result of Janet’s tryst with Redvers Glass (Adam Urey) and her fear of “eternal fire and torment” after “doing away” with oneself.

Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson

Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson

Under Lucia Cox’s careful direction, the ensemble cast successfully brings Ms. Cox’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel to the stage and challenges the audience to examine its culpability in the alleged downturn in the affairs of humankind. Like the “very, very strong” American sleeping pills Howard plans to use to end his life, every culture creates ways to induce insomnia in its citizens and, with Janet” to see “it’s not too bad of a world when you come to look at it.” Oliver Devoti is perfectly stoic and armed with reason in his role as Howard. Eve Burley brings a blend of innocence and devilishness to her portrayal of Janet. And Adam Urey balances naiveté with cunning debauchery in his dual roles as Red and the game show host Laddie O’Neill.

It is easy to mistake “One Hand Clapping” for a diatribe against global consumerism; however, its polemic is more far-reaching and nihilistic. Anthony Burgess is questioning the ability of society to survive. The consumerism evident on the television screens on Meriel Pym’s (appropriately) claustrophobic set is only one of many symptoms of the decay and rottenness Howard senses. And placing the fireplace poker and the hammer in reach of the audience is a brilliant trope for “everyman’s” culpability in all that’s rotten in Denmark and beyond.


Written by Anthony Burgess and adapted and directed by Lucia Cox. The design team includes Meriel Pym (sets, props and costume design) and Owen Rafferty (sound and video design). The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos by Emma Phillipson. Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” is presented by House of Orphans (Manchester UK) and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday May 31, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to Running time is 75 minutes without interval.

Anthony Burgess' “One Hand Clapping” features Eve Burley, Oliver Devoti, and Adam Urey.