Neil LaBute doesn’t shy away from tackling big ideas and his 2001 play, The Shape of Things, is a shocking, thought-provoking examination of the not-so-trifling subjects of art, love and morality.
Energetic, witty and fast-paced, there’s never a dull moment in director Tom Attenborough’s site-responsive production. Andrew Nolan gives a truthful, nuanced performance as sweet but wet Adam, a shy college student who falls for exciting art grad, Evelyn (a scarily focused, predatory Lucy Marks). As their relationship develops and Evelyn’s influence takes hold, Adam gradually transforms. At first it’s the little things - the hair, the clothes - but when things start to go further, with tattoos and even plastic surgery, we begin to feel a little uneasy.
Rhapsody of Words aptly stages its production in an art gallery in the West End. The intimacy of the space, our proximity to the actors and the casual seating arrangements (find yourself a cushion on the floor) all conspire to draw us in so Attenborough can toy with us, pushing the established boundaries between actors and audience. In the devastating penultimate scene, a subtle shift turns us into participators in the action and we become the uncomfortably complicit audience to Evelyn’s thesis project presentation.
Insightful, articulate, and utterly engaging, the play throws up some fascinating questions, not only about the nature of art, but also about the nature of truth and of love. How much will we change for the one we love? What constitutes ‘art’ and who can possibly assert their authority on this? After all, ‘everything is subjective’. Even truth is subjective; what is real for one person may not be real for another, which Evelyn proves and the play’s structure confirms. With its deceptive appearance of a straightforward narrative about the relationship between two young lovers, the audience is almost tricked into feeling comfortable while its true nature creeps up on us, making its vicious uppercut of a finale all the more unsettling.
The Shape of Things will run until 6th March at The Gallery Soho, 123 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EW. Tickets £9.50 (£7.50 concessions)
Production shot by Francesca Reidy, featuring Lucy Marks (Evelyn), Andrew Nolan (Adam) and Katy Marks (Jenny) in the Shape of Things.