Reviewed – 7th October 2017
“shadowy symbolism echoes throughout this production”
Roxana Silbert’s envisaging of Chris Hannan’s intensely cerebral well-made play is pacey, slick and satisfying. A very strong cast support one another constantly, keeping the drama taut, which is difficult with a script which occasionally forays into pure, oratorical debate, rather than writing which craves a stage. The play opens with a crash of thunder, and the shadowy symbolism echoes throughout this production, which manages to be both poetically haunting and true to life.
Ian McDiarmid’s Enoch Powell is riveting. His mental and physical deterioration, and Rose Cruikshank’s progression in conviction, culminating in their meeting, are arcs which poignantly interlock. McDiarmid brought the light and shade of humility to the character, complexifying his identity. Tracing Cruikshank’s younger life chipped away at her hardened academic exterior. The closing bartering between Powell and Cruikshank was moving, bringing to life all the thought with which this script is so laden. Amelia Donker played Rose formidably, but a little more softness to earlier dialogue would have made her later displays of vulnerability less of a snap transition.
Nicholas Le Provost’s stage presence was masterful. He spoke with grace and moved with ease, whilst managing to encapsulate the nervous below-the-surface energy of a journalist making risky choices. Highest commendation must go to Paula Wilcox and Joanne Pierce. Their multi-roling was a wonder to behold. The combination of subtlety with careful poise, the consideration in every gesture, turn of phrase and lilt of voice was really rather inspiring. At points, they elevated the piece to levels of excellence. Waleed Akhtar and Ameet Chana were similarly skilled, bringing a tantalising mixture of humour to their roles, whilst portraying an undercurrent of a wider, deeper narrative. Sultan’s cry, ‘I’ve fallen in love with England’ is, on the surface, endearingly uncomplicated: and therein lies the irony of What Shadows.
Ti Green’s clever design – tall model trees standing like skeletons at the back of the stage – coupled with Chahine Yavroyan’s inventive lights and Louis Price’s video projections, making rain and a party atmosphere, created the flitting, shadowy ambiguity needed for the play to be compelling theatrically as well as intellectually. If anything, more time could have been spent with the characters dwelling in the shadows. Giles Thomas’ sound design was particularly effective in scene changes, charging the drama forwards.
Occasionally, the direction felt a little contrived, particularly during Powell’s speech, when the cast entered and exited on a clear cue in the script. And when Rose is supposedly on the precipice of a building, only sound communicated this, as there was little impression created by the actors of danger. But holistically, this production is well-realised and especially apt for now. To quote one of its many aphorisms, ‘By the time you’ve described today it’s tomorrow’ – so go and see it today, before it’s not on tomorrow.
Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton
Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic
is at The Park Theatre until 28th October