My Arms, from Manchester company Box of Tricks, has been on a short tour of the North West after premiering at last year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival. A short two hander about the disintegration of a marriage after a tragedy, the story is told in reverse, beginning with the couple’s tentative meeting to talk about the future of the family.
From the start, it is clear things have never been plain sailing for Helen and Colin. Communication is stifled; a result of her apprehension and possibly fear, and his old-fashioned, working class masculinity. Colin has not long been released from prison, and the marriage has not survived. He clings on to the hope that the normality of his old life may return; she has been empowered by the time alone.
From there, the play moves backwards, examining a prison visit, the night before Colin’s sentencing, and the moments leading up to the incident that would seal both their fates.
It is an interesting idea, and although up-and-coming playwright James Leach’s script was beautifully written this device didn’t always pack the punch it could have – at least, not at first. Some revelations were somewhat lost as the audience did not, at that point, have the full story to understand their significance. In prison, Helen gives Colin some news from the outside world that crushes him, but it’s not quite clear why until later on. A little more clarity would have made the scene much more powerful.
However, this made for a piece that stayed long in the mind as the bits of the puzzle dropped into place. My Arms is one of those intelligent plays that makes the audience work for its reward, and stays with you as a result.
Strong performances are a necessity, and Susan Twist was mesmerising as put-upon wife Helen, finding herself again after a life of dealing with a difficult husband. Josh Moran was a perfect contrast as Colin, a gruff, particularly northern man’s man.