Pretty damn good, by the shape of things

Maia Srebernik reviews Neil Labute’s ‘The Shape of Things’.

amateur drama drama edgy warwick warwick drama

I edge into the room and realise awkwardly there’s nowhere to sit down so I stand near the wall and feel a bit sorry for myself.

Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things  tells the story of Evelyn Ann Thompson, a PhD art student, played with sharp, delicious calculation by Warwick’s Eleanor Adams, meeting bespectacled, unassuming, working-two-jobs-on-a-Friday-night Adam (Ed Davis).

They start dating and we begin to see differences in him; contact lenses, a haircut, weight loss – surgery. We share the unease of Adam’s friends Jenny (Anna Pearce) and Phillip (Will Kelly) which builds until the astonishing final scene – an overwhelming spectacle which questions the nature of free will, the power of manipulation and most of all, the function and boundaries of art.

That’s why I’ve been made to stand up. I am at an art exhibition, being led around the stage by a spotlight and a troupe of Warwick actors using every corner of the room.

It’s a solid and effective technique on director Josh Green’s part.  It leads us to question what we see and who we see in fresh, unique way (while also using the modest size of humanities facilities to its advantage).

The best thing about this production is the chemistry between the four. It’s so convincing and real that you feel slightly awkward standing around watching them – a bit like you’ve intruded –  especially during an explosive fight between Evelyn and Phillip.

Some of the jokes are so naturally funny that I question whether they were improvised. Will Kelly charmingly plays that arrogant guy we all know with comic brilliance, while Anna Pearce is the seemingly demure, long-suffering girlfriend.

It would almost be a Notting Hill-like set up, if not for Eleanor Adams’ delayed, Cheshire-cat smiles promising a wonderfully horrific ending and Ed Davis’s puppy-dog obedience promising the perfect victim.

It’s not that straightforward either.

Eleanor and Ed cast doubt and ambiguity over their characters with masterly precision until you’re not quite sure what you just saw or who you really condemn. All I know is I wanted to give Ed/Adam a hug.

As long as you can get past the work you have to do with your own imagination, this play is for you. Well-acted, with a musical treat from talented student Tom Fowler and creatively and thriftily directed.

Basically it was well worth seeing. Maybe I should have brought a chair…

Directed by Josh Green. ‘The Shape of Things’ was on from 25-27th February in the Humanities Studio free of charge.