The Shape of Things
Paul Johnson | 08 Apr 2014 10:32am
South London Theatre is to be commended for its decision to programme this four hander by Neil LaBute. It is a gem of a play; powerful, intense and with elements of surrealism and cruelty, and brief insertions of humour to break the dramatic mood as a counterpoint on occasion. The South London theatre company gave full justice to the quality of the piece, thanks to clear and precise direction from Barry Heselden and, especially, stellar performances from the cast of four.
The setting is Mid-West America, and the feel and aura of Americana is well portrayed. The actors’ accents are faithful and authentic sounding. There is also some judicious use of background music to herald scene changes which were achieved efficiently and without fuss.
The central theme of the precedence that the pursuit and reverence of all things artistic may take over the decencies and routines and manners of everyday life is powerfully drawn. It could be said to take its inspiration to an extent from the theme championed in Chekhov’s Crime and Punishment.
South London Theatre elected to stage the play without an interval, presumably so that the prevailing mood and flow not be broken by a twenty-minute hiatus. This worked well as one felt that the audience properly engaged in the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the characters in the play.
The angular blocks set on stage gave a good impression of depth and, embellished as they were with good looking artwork, acknowledged the theme of the play, being to some extent the juxtaposition of life and art.
Thus a quiet intensity informed the play with all concentration centred on our four actors and their projection of personas and relationships. One could have heard a pin drop for the greater part, making for a very appropriate atmosphere.
As Eve, Ali Hulett portrayed a chilling, controlling young woman under the deceptive guise of sweetness and straightforwardness. Ali displayed a glacial,nerveless and convincing front and her performance marked the piece with absolute distinction. She brought Adam (Sam Smullen) under her control with a ruthless and preconceived plan;although supposedly in the throes of love and passion she was actually using him in a cold blooded and cynical expression of experimentation, masquerading in the name of art.
She illuminated severable memorable scenes; her teasing in the opening scene with Adam, when they first meet, and later when playing with the fears and apprehensions of Adam and Jenny ( Phoebe Rees) as a cat may do with a mouse. These settings,well executed ,were conceivably eclipsed by her closing soliloquy giving the reasons for her actions in pursuing the artistic quest. A real tour de force and masses of words!
Adam played by Sam Smullen achieves a very clever and well conceived physical transformation from his initial geeky but likeable appearance, by virtue of subtle change in hair style, shedding the spectacles, and updating wardrobe to give the simultaneous impression of weight loss. Beyond this physical transformation Sam gives a finely observed performance as the man caught in the mesmerising spell of Eve, displaying a degree of bewilderment and anguish as events unfold. These events affect the relationship between his best friend and the best friend’s fiancée. His ultimat anger expressed to Eve when he realises the extent to which he has been used and duped is a finely controlled reading of temper and frustration.
Owen Chidland as Phil – looking strikingly like a cross between Jon Pertwee and Art Garfunkel – had a great line in facial expression, eliciting a look akin to having chewed something unpleasant immediately before speaking. Owen barely contained a suppressed anger and cynicism in his utterings with the others, and an unusual persona lent character and style to his portrayal.
I felt that his explosive argument early on with Eve, challenging her ideas and elitism with absolute directness, felt a little forced and exaggerated. This would be an observation in the writing and not the playing. Beyond this point, however, an interesting alternative arises; was it just the loutishness of the character lashing out in self defence and vulnerability against ideas and concepts he had a fear of, or was he truly perceptive in identifying Eve as a fraud with dishonourable motives?
The conviction portrayed by Owen was such that one felt relieved for Jenny when their relationship crashed later on and she was spared a lifetime association with him!
Jenny played by Phoebe Rees was convincingly vulnerable, defensive and apprehensive within her sweetness and accommodating nature. The scene in which she comes to realise her feelings for Adam are stronger than she may have wished, given her pending nuptials with Phil, is compellingly and softly played by her and Sam.
A very fine evening of drama; a strong, muscular presentation by all concerned with plenty of power and punch, of a play containing darkness, extremism and shocking forms of behaviour.
I look forward to South London Theatre future productions if they maintain this high standard!
- : admin
- : 05/04/2014