The Shape of Things

Neil LaBute
Rhapsody of Words Productions
The Gallery Soho
(2011)

The Shape of Things production photo

Every good play needs a villain and my word, does The Shape of Things have one! Evelyn epitomizes bitch: arrogant, manipulative, controlling. In many ways she is a sadistic Mary Poppins, appearing to offer help, comfort and guidance, when underneath her niceties lays a dark, secret agenda.

Neil LaBute's play, The Shape of Things, explores that age old question: 'What is art?' Art is, of course, subjective and open to interpretation, but so are relationships and emotions according to Evelyn.

The Gallery Soho is transformed into a theatrical space for the first time in the venue's history. Stepping foot into the performance space, one is reminded to turn mobile phones off, that smoking is prohibited and to remain behind the line. Of course Evelyn being Evelyn can't resist and as she oversteps the mark in every way imaginable, she claps eyes on someone who becomes her next project in more ways than one.

The framing of the production in an art gallery works extremely well; actors become works of art on show for the paying public, much like Evelyn's exploitation of her very own work of art. Modes of presentation and representation are important to the piece and the show's reflexive conclusion encourages the audience to debate the notion of participation and consumption in relation to art. Society today seems all too ready to gorge on reality TV programmes without even stopping to consider the ethical implications of shows such as Big Brother, but perhaps this has something to do with our morbid fascination with the freak?

As the labelled freak of the piece, Andrew Nolan's Adam is the nice guy who, at first, appears to get lucky. Nolan is an incredibly talented actor and the only cast member to truly grasp both his character and accent. New company Rhapsody of Words have found themselves a star and one that they will be sure to hold onto for future projects.

Lucy Marks as Evelyn rightly gets under the audience's skin, with Katy Marks and Edward Rowett providing support as Adam's friends Phillip and Jenny. Direction from Tom Attenborough and a minimal, but very effective set courtesy of Franscesca Reidy ensures the production flows well.

But as the production flows, with scene changes becoming a site for cinematic projection, it is LaBute's dialogue that stalls it, appearing rather disjointed and clunky at times. In trying to reproduce the spontaneous interruptions and inaccuracies found in everyday speech, his text comes across as heavily scripted and thus further highlights the constructed nature of the theatrical event.

Founded in 2010, Rhapsody of Words aim to produce theatre that matches texts to specific venues in which the core of the play may be best explored. Their latest production has successfully achieved this and with The Shape of Things' characters more subtle than the overblown stereotypes of its sister film version, the company easily proves that that play is most definitely the thing.

Playing until 6th March 2011

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Reviewer: Simon Sladen