Monday, 29 May 2023

Theatre review: The Shape of Things

The production companies that last year brought Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park to the Park Theatre return, with another early hit from a playwright whose later career featured an unfortunate incident involving bees, Neil LaBute. The Shape of Things is the defining LaBute story on themes he's returned to many times - mainly around body image, and the battle of the sexes. Set in and around a college campus, Adam (Luke Newton) is overweight, nerdy and has few friends and fewer relationships. When working one of his two part-time jobs to pay his student loans, as security at an art gallery, he meets Evelyn (Amber Anderson,) an art postgraduate who's planning on defacing one of the statues as a protest against censorship. Far from stopping her he turns a blind eye because he's flattered by her flirting with him.

The two start dating, and Adam starts making more of an effort with his looks - eating better, going to the gym, exchanging his glasses for contacts and getting a whole new wardrobe at her suggestion.

When the glow-up recommendations start to include more extreme measures like an unnecessary nose-job, he pushes back a bit but ultimately complies. But not all the changes are to his body - as he becomes more conventionally physically attractive his personality seems to change as well. He becomes more liable to lie to Evelyn, flirt with other women and even make a move on Jenny ( Carla Harrison-Hodge), the fiancée of his best friend Phillip (Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy.)

LaBute's reputation has always been a controversial one, with a notorious line in misanthropy that leans towards misogyny, and The Shape of Things introduces both. Nicky Allpress' production has apparently had a few tweaks, approved by the playwright, to remove some of the lines from the script that have dated particularly badly. For all I know this could only be a couple of changed words, or maybe it's been more extensive, as I enjoyed the evening but felt it was really missing some of the darkness and sharp edges I was expecting. There's certainly some strong comic lines, plot twists and one line in particular so harsh that it drew gasps. But I didn't see the characters explored for quite how dark they can be.

Newton is of course about to take over as the next official male lead in Bridgerton, and by implication as the Internet's next official boyfriend, and this role certainly showcases looks, charm and comic timing that should bode well for him living up to that pressure. But I kept waiting for his Adam to show a bit more genuine cruelty as part of his transformation, a little more indication that as he's taking advantage of his new position as one of the beautiful people, he's becoming oblivious to how his actions affect those around him. I did also wonder if this affected the misdirection for anyone who didn't know how the play ends, but Phill said he didn't see it coming. It remains an entertaining night but less of an emotional rollercoaster - and it's certainly a strange feeling, to come out of a play wishing it had made you feel a bit dirtier for watching it.

The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute is booking until the 1st of July at Park Theatre 200.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Mark Douet.

No comments:

Post a Comment