Thursday, 16 January 2014

Local theatre... in great shape

Photograph: Michael Stanislaw

The third show in the Sewell Barn's 2013-14 season was directed by Luke Owen, a regular performer with the group, and more recently a published and performed playwright. (I know he gets uncomfortable with his friends and colleagues banging on proudly about his achievements, but given the undoubted success of Unscorched, it looks as though he's going to have to get used to it.)

Having shared a stage with Luke, I knew that whatever his production delivered, it would most likely be intentional: precise, professional and focused. My hope was that his choice of play and performers would permit such an aim to be realised; to my delight, it was.

The Shape of Things, by Neil LaBute, is a contemporary play, dealing with very twenty-first century attitudes.

"When Adam meets a young art student named Evelyn, his world begins to change. The two fall in love, and keen to impress his new girlfriend Adam begins to alter everything about himself for the better – he works out, he buys new clothes, he stops biting his nails... 

But why is Evelyn so eager for him to change? And what is he becoming?"

Having said that: there are shades of Pygmalion here, so perhaps the subject matter resonates far further back than the era of Starbucks, mobile phones and the gym. Maybe that's one of the reasons I liked it so much: real-time relevance rooted in enduring observations of human nature. And it is an excellent script: thought-provoking, funny, sinister, sharply-observed and intelligent.

The four young actors were perfectly chosen. Any small-cast show has the opportunity for exciting chemistry (or not) to ignite the theatrical experience (or not); in this case, the tuning between performers was perfect. Each displaying far more artistic integrity and professional composure than is entirely fair in those so young, the four wove their characters together, bouncing and merging, arguing and sparking, each confrontation entirely believable. It's actually not possible to comment on individual scenes or characters without giving away key plotlines - which I won't, because I want you to go and see for yourselves - but rest assured that all four performers inhabit their characters with total conviction, interact with love and fear and uncertainty and excitement and despair, and truly live. David Green, Hazel Wilson, Louise Waller and Jack Churchill are all to be very highly commended for such devoted and professional work, both as a team and individually.

And as for Mr Owen: this was a fine, fine example of a vision created and realised. With Gemma Goodwin's clean and ingenious set, simple movements of blocks to create various environments, swift transformation of light and stage, and careful use of appropriate incidental music, the world of LaBute's 'Midwestern American university' was firmly established on the Barn's versatile stage. With performers who are mature enough to exhibit skillful stagecraft but youthful enough to be entirely flexible about the characters they create, we were not watching David, Hazel, Louise and Jack, but Adam, Evelyn, Jenny and Philip, and we believed it. And with that precise, professional and focused direction I mentioned earlier, the whole creation was brought together as an exceptional work of art: yet another production of which the Sewell Barn Theatre can be very proud.

As I write this, you have four more chances to witness the creation for yourself. I strongly suggest that you do. Box Office: 01603 697248.

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