The Shape of Things at the Arcola Theatre
In 2003 Neil LaBute’s play The Shape of Things was remodelled as a film, starring Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd – the original cast that had premiered the play in 2001. Now pared down, it comes to the Arcola Theatre’s Studio 2 with some ingenious staging.
The play itself is immensely clever, complex, allusive, disturbing and frequently very funny. There is no interval; this is a deliberate decision that allows the narrative to build to an uncomfortable climax, rather than being split into two acts. The most important subjects in the play are art and love and how they interact. Much of the play investigates how artifice bleeds into reality and vice versa, with clever allusions to Pygmalion and the book of Genesis (the two main characters called Adam and Evelyn).
To enhance this theme of art versus reality, the big blue mannequin torso that is a piece of art in the first scene deconstructs into real-life objects, such as chairs and tables, throughout the rest of the play – a visual example of art becoming reality. A percussive, glockenspiel-driven soundtrack plays between scenes, reminiscent of a conspiracy thriller, but it helps contribute to the growing tension the audience feels.
Sean McConaghy as Adam and Harrie Hayes as Jenny give great performances. Jenny comes across as nervous, awkward and kind, complementing these same characteristics in Adam. McConaghy is phenomenal, inhabiting a difficult, constantly evolving role. His American accent is flawless, he has an impressive aptitude for comic timing and he convincingly and expressively conveys the progression from genial nervousness to a more unsettling confidence towards the end.
And the end is forceful, disturbing and suitably climactic. It brings a strange disintegration of the fourth wall, as the audience watching the play becomes an audience within the play – the coalescing of the two is a brilliant emphasis of the play’s exploration of artifice and reality. Although bits of acting came across as a little unnatural or clunky at times, this is counterbalanced by a great performance from McConaghy, clever directing from Samuel Miller and LaBute’s astonishing script.
The Shape of Things is at the Arcola until 21st December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Shape of Things here: