Clara van Wel’s interpretation of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things is clever and engaging, with real narrative force. Following the reinvention of Adam after the start of his relationship with confident and controversial Evelyn, the play explores ideas of personality, art and display within a minimalized yet effective set.
This production’s largest strength was the force of its actors: the small cast of four worked well, and actors played off one another effectively to bring out the subtleties of scenes. Adam Mirsky as Adam brilliantly conveyed both insecurity and a believable response to popularity, while Katurah Morrish stole she show as an alluring (yet never quite emotionally available) Evelyn. Their foils – Adam’s popular roommate Phillip (George Booth-Clibborn) and his sweet yet perceptive girlfriend Jenny (Beth Hindhaugh) – brought a believable intensity to scenes, with Hinghaugh’s Jenny in particular offering a quiet strength of personality.
The performance was at its best and most memorable in tense scenes of confrontation, such as the coffee encounter between Evelyn and Jenny and Adam’s final showdown with Evelyn. Here, the blocking of characters exposed a deliciously stark standoff. These scenes really wouldn’t have worked without the incredible talent of the cast, and this made the decision to have the actors join the audience to watch Evelyn’s final art project inspired. In this meta moment, the crossing of boundaries of interaction underscored the questions raised about audience participation and artistic influence, whilst also reminding us of Evelyn and Adam’s first interaction.
The play wasn’t perfect: whilst the modern and upbeat music choices were enjoyable, they did give the play a film-like feeling, and also emphasised the length of scene changes. Overall, a shorter duration (the play is almost two hours long) would have benefited this performance, keeping the tensions taut and emotional investment in characters high. Yet this production should be commended for its narrative force and uncomfortable questioning. Details like the graffitied poster adorning the white wall of the Playroom in a clever reference to the play’s opening scene emphasised the blurred line between art and reality taking place within the performance itself. The opening and closing with a video recording perhaps tied the play up a little too neatly, yet the video element in itself was a nice touch, and its intimate nature made us as an audience uncomfortably implicated in Evelyn’s actions.
Raising questions of what art exactly is, the play makes us question the ethics and importance of what we too have just watched. Should Evelyn be condemned or celebrated for her artistic innovation and personality? If we condemn Evelyn’s manifesto as gratuitous, what does that say about us as an audience? Like Evelyn’s closing ‘real’ words, we are not given an answer: instead, we are left replaying the scenes that have come before us, searching for the meaning in the enjoyment we have just experienced.