The Coronet Theatre
Reviewed – 6th November 2019
“absolutely mesmerising and completely enthralling”
Jon Fosse is an exceptionally interesting author. While highly acclaimed and very famous in continental Europe, including his native Norway, he remains relatively unknown to the British audiences. Unwilling to get pigeonholed, his theatre (as well as poems and novels) is very much his own, created in a particular, quasi-Joycean style. Shadows only now has the UK premiere, a whole ten years after its Norwegian debut.
The storyline in Shadows is difficult to even grasp, let alone understand. Children (via a video projection) seemingly voice the thoughts of elderly actors who eerily mope around the stage. They talk about being “here”, meeting one another “here” after so many years – where the “here” really is, how many years have passed, if any at all, is up to audience’s own interpretation.
Jon Fosse has never been really interested in the story per se. His works, including thousands of pages long novels, rarely even have any plot whatsoever. Cryptic language reveals very little about characters, if anything truly – Fosse prefer to explore their emotions and feelings rather than dwelling on the context. Indeed, context in Shadows is close to non-existent: what we know is but a glimpse of their relationships with one another and their feelings.
His word choice tends to be exceptionally laconic and repetition cocoons the core of each dialogue. To say that characters even talk is an overstatement: they seem to be posing the questions instead, hoping for someone to respond. They speak in Norwegian (with English surtitles) with no regard for punctuation marks or logical train of thought. It is peculiar, really – but then to know more would be to spoil the mystery.
Shadows is almost impossible to rate using traditional criteria. Scenic design is naïve and very simple. There is music but its placement is tightly connected to the onstage stream of consciousness and void of any external logic. There are, in fact, no actors – the entire story is revealed via video projections and live actors are not much more than mannequins. And yet, the interconnectedness and internal logic of this play as a whole is truly uncanny.
Shadows is absolutely mesmerising and completely enthralling. The enigma itself constitutes its magic. What it is really about is a mystery – mystery of life perhaps, and mystery of experience. It is intricate, yet not complicated – very simple, in fact.
Reviewed by Dominika Fleszar
The Coronet Theatre until 9th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: