Review: The Shape of Things at The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park
A chance to see both a spectacular performance and Colin Bridgerton in the flesh
In the play The Shape of Things college student, Adam, falls madly in love with the intensely ambitious art student, Evelyn. Their unconventional love story takes you on an adventure where the meaning of art, friendship and love are pushed to breaking point. On at the Park Theatre in London until the 1st of July, tickets are only £10 for 16-26 year olds — this dark comedy is a real must-see.
Have you or someone you know experienced noticeable shifts in personality while in a long-term relationship? Perhaps you’ve found yourself adopting your partner’s style, music preferences, or sense of humour. In this play, our main characters, the biblically inspired Adam and Evelyn, take this phenomenon to a whole new and unsettling level.
The play begins with nerdy student and part-time museum attendant, Adam, portrayed by Bridgerton’s Luke Newton. Adam attempts to dissuade artsy and rebellious Evelyn, played by Peaky Blinders’ Amber Anderson, from vandalising a statue in the name of art. If you’re new to Neil LaBute’s ‘theatre of cruelty’ (like myself), this opening scene may appear as an innocent meet-cute, following the typical romantic trope where the cool girl gives the geeky guy a chance. However, don’t be deceived, as a much more sinister twist lies ahead. The story deviates from a simple boy-meets-girl narrative and ventures into the realm of boy-meets-sociopath.
Evelyn becomes the skilled puppeteer, expertly pulling the strings to transform Adam from a geeky misfit into a conventionally attractive man. Adam changes his clothes, his hair, gets contacts, loses weight and even goes as far as undergoing a nose job. She meticulously moulds every aspect of his life and even his connections with friends, causing ripples of disruption among his engaged pals, the gregarious Phil and the endearing Jenny.
The play’s central psychological revelation is that Adam’s inner self undergoes a transformation alongside his outward attractiveness. While not a particularly groundbreaking one, this revelation highlights the compromises we make in relationships, particularly within controlling dynamics. As the narrative unfolds with romantic betrayals, the play tackles thought-provoking questions about Evelyn’s manipulation and motives for altering Adam’s identity. It raises the ethical dilemma of whether it is morally justifiable for Evelyn to change Adam to conform to society’s notion of “improvement.” Consequently, prompting us to question the subjective nature of art and who holds the authority to determine its boundaries.
While the underpinnings of the play involve these philosophical questions, the script is riddled with witty one-liners, which the actors deliver seamlessly leaving the audience in hysterics. However, given the play was written in the early 2000’s, some of the script may come across a little dated. Examples include references to Hillary Clinton standing as senator and a direct quote from the series Friends, Joey’s classic line: “How you doin’?”. Some of the characters’ defining traits may be viewed as outdated, given that a strong and ambitious female lead is no longer as outrageous as it might have been two decades ago. This shift could detract from the play’s original sensationalism. However, the 90’s music, costume, and other production elements successfully brought both a nostalgic and fun feeling to the stage while remaining contemporary.
The combination of a minimalist set design and the intimate space of the Park Theatre, where you can be a maximum of four rows away from Luke Newton, creates the sensation of witnessing a live art installation. This setup successfully enhances the underlying eeriness of the play. Overall the acting is brilliant, the play captivates your attention from the very start and doesn’t let go, squeezing tighter as the dark twist is revealed.