Thursday, September 21

The Shape of Things – Park Theatre

My first introduction to playwright Neil LaBute’s work was Fat Pig, which premiered in London in 2008 and depicts the story of a shallow man who works in a testosterone fuelled corporate environment and falls in love, to his shame, with a plus-sized woman. There are definite parallels to be drawn between the two plays, which both feature two male and two female characters and centre around relationships, appearances and challenging ideologies and examine how far we will – or won’t – go for love.

The play opens with the meet cute of Evelyn (Amber Anderson), a confident, headstrong art student and Adam (Luke Newton), a meek rather geeky English student in the art gallery where Adam works part time. As they begin dating, we see early indications of Adam’s Grease-style glow up, as directed by Evelyn, which become gradually more apparent as the first act progresses. Newton’s comedic timing is bang on and yet he brings a hapless innocence and likeability to the part – as an audience we feel protective of him which makes the drama all the more affecting as it plays out. Evelyn in contrast is standoffish, and with this being Anderson’s stage debut (although her film and television credits are extensive) I was sometimes unsure if I was witnessing her own or her character’s discomfort. 

The small stage is used considerately, with the action focused towards the back to allow everyone a good view and with a masterful multifunctioning backdrop that frames everything beautifully – almost like a canvas. The lighting is subtle but smart, summoning up a clinical medical waiting room and then moving to a sunlit park. The music is perfectly pitched for the era and featured some of my child-of-the-90s favourites (thank you) – and the play is sprinkled with 90s culture; like Evelyn calling Adam ‘Grasshopper’ like Mr Miyagi in the Karate Kid – a reference so popular I know it and I haven’t even seen the Karate Kid. But the music is put to greater use also supports scene changes and mini-vignettes which progress the story in a matter of wordless seconds.

By the second act (which follows what I thought was an unusually long interval), Evelyn’s influence over Adam is painfully apparent, and the ripples from their relationship are affecting Adam’s friends, recently engaged Phillip (Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy) and Jenny (Carla Harrison-Hodge). Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy’s blunt, obnoxious Phillip is the perfect contrast to Anderson’s cool and collected Evelyn, with Anderson really finding her flow now and giving Evelyn a mysterious and captivating allure. Newton’s Adam continues to win hearts as we see his physical and emotional transformation; becoming less and less familiar to his friends and unrecognisable to the man we first saw at the start of act one. The final scenes elicited some genuine gasps from the audience; the drama in The Shape of Things just keeps gently rolling and the tension by the end was palpable. This is a performance that deserved the enthusiast applause that it received last night. It plays until 1st July at the Park Theatre and I would (and will be) energetically recommending it to anyone in the mood for an evening of smart, witty, polished theatre.

Reviewer: Zoё Meeres

Reviewed: 30th May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.