All aboard for Hannah Butterfield’s one woman show, calling at the Lowry and a theatre near you. Possibly.
I was drawn to this show because of a love of travel. Train travel. I like the fact that on a train you don't have to concentrate like you do when you're in a car; someone else does the driving and you can sit back and let the journey unfold. I like the romance of travel, the excitement, the promise of things to come... things that very rarely deliver once you arrive, but when in transit the world holds so much promise. So, consequently, I was looking forward to this quirky little show, not knowing quite what to expect, but hopeful and ready to be entertained. And I was.
Star and creator, Hannah Butterfield, is a Leeds based theatre artist. She's young, she's vibrant, she’s innovative. She can't drive, so she takes a lot of trains... but unlike most grumbling commuters she uses the train to watch people and get inspired. This is what her show is really about: the people, the strangers on a train, and we, the audience, are her fellow passengers.
The stage at the Lowry Studio is simple, with a timetable monitor hanging from the ceiling and a train track on the floor, complete with circling toy train. Hannah steps forward, dressed in a red dress and a raincoat. She doesn’t speak for some time, but her words come up on the monitor, one letter at a time… it looks like “Hell” and Hannah looks anxious, but turns into the word “Hello” and Hannah smiles a welcome and the audience give their first laugh and we’re off. This first section is very funny with Hannah emoting to the words on the screen; it’s gentle, observational humour and it goes down very well. With the ice truly broken the performance continues with a song… I wasn’t expecting that… sung acapella. Then it all gets a bit scary, because Hannah is in amongst us, edging up and down the rows… interacting, relating, asking questions, involving people in her stories… This is usually my idea of Hell (hello), but I don’t actually mind it that much, even though she sits next to me at one point, but fortunately turns her attentions to the poor person next door. Most of the audience members picked on seem very at ease and play along in a good natured manner.
Then there’s a manic moment of physical comedy about the confusion of train ticket types, which segues into a very catchy song on the same subject and ends with an increasingly frenzied tap routine, which was riveting. One of the final scenes is a parody of a Brief Encounter type film, complete with plummy accent and dry ice.
This isn’t a show that’s easy to quantify. It isn’t a single story, but a collection of anecdotes and possibilities, featuring music, sketches, dance and audience participation, mainly funny but with moments of poignancy, all revolving around a central theme. Perhaps it wouldn’t work with someone less compelling than Hannah. It might not be for everyone, but I found it fascinating, different, challenging, pleasing and warm.
Finally, Hannah reveals she has an agenda... to encourage us all to do a random act of kindness next time we're on a train, to help someone, to speak to a stranger, just because we can… and you never know, it might just help make the world a better place.
On that note, after some very decent applause, a hundred and fifty people shuffle out in silence… and head for their cars in the multi-storey car park and the soulless drive home.
Reviewed on: 23rd July 2015.
Reviewed by: John Wood