19 December 2013

The Shape of Things at the Arcola Theatre

Having missed the Arcola for a few months I then went two night in a row, both times to catch a play just before it closed.

The second time I had to make the long trip round the London Overground from Richmond to Dalston Kingsland and the reason that I did that was because The Shape of Things was written by Neil LaBute and he also wrote In a Forest Dark and Deep which was one of my highlights of 2011.

With Lizzie Siddal claiming the main theatre upstairs The Shape of Things was downstairs in Studio 2. This is smaller, seating under 100, and is more intimate. I had been to the smaller studio before and loved it.

The play is about art student Evelyn Ann Thompson, her boyfriend Adam, his friend Phillip and Phillip's fiance Jenny.

Evelyn and Adam meet in an art gallery in unusual circumstances. He is working there as a security guard, one of his several jobs, and she is there to deface a work of art that has been censored by the addition of a fig leaf. They talk about what she is planning and why and they agree to meet up again.

The relationship seems to be imbalanced from the start. Adam is doing little with his life and is dressed to match. Evelyn has strong ideas, is dressed to impress and is beautiful. Adam cannot believe his luck.

Phillip and Jenny give us different perspectives on Adam. Phillip and Adam shared a room as students despite being very different people and Jenny sat next to Adam in a class but they never quite clicked thanks to shyness on both sides.

Adam shines as his relationship with Evelyn develops. He dresses better, uses contact lenses and even has corrective surgery on his nose, hence the picture at the top.

They may, or may not, have had brief flings with Phillip and Jenny but that does nothing to diminish their relationship.

Then its time for Evelyn's graduation show and an almighty bomb drops, and one I had not seen even the barest  hint of. In a Forest Dark and Deep also has a major twist in the plot but that is more subtle and more gradual, and is made the more dramatic by being low-key. This one just hits hard. In the play Evelyn is left at her graduation by herself as the three others walk out in disgust. In the audience we share the surprise and outrage.

I spoke to "Adam" afterwards and said that I thought he was shabbily treated. I could not bring myself to talk to "Evelyn" in the bar despite her beauty.

A play that still carries the emotions after the curtain calls is a good play and The Shape of Things is a very good play. It was helped on its way by being superbly acted (by all four) and its clever use of a minimalist set.

The Shape of Things at the Arcola was another exceptional night at the theatre and another reminder of why I go there so often despite it being on the other side of London.

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