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Shadows on the Wall
Published on Thursday, 23 May 2013

Promotional Image

2 stars

The Warren (venue website)
15 May, 6:00pm-7:00pm; 1-2 Jun, 4:00pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

A blinded man, eyes symbolically covered by a bright red cloth, sits alone on the stage. He’s a king, we discover, who seized power from a one-time ally – paying the price of his sight, plus an unknown cost to his soul. It’s a striking opening, which promises much from this new devised play. But, I’m afraid, it was largely downhill from there.

The writing isn't the strongest. One scene seemed to consist entirely of misquotations from Macbeth – presumably as a deliberate homage but, in context, dangerously suggestive of a lack of better ideas. And some of the imagery was a touch bamboozling. "You spend your life as a shadow on the wall... but shadows can kill," says one character. Can they? How?

But this show's lifted out of the one-star bucket by the spotlit monologues from the blinded king, which were of such a different quality, they almost felt like a separate play. Andrew Scott's portrayal was perhaps a little one-note – I lost count of the number times he soulfully laid his hand across his chest – but there's a true sense of heft to the script here, and an air of quiet tragedy to the delivery. I genuinely wanted to hear his story, to understand the trail of betrayals and deceits which had led him to his pain-filled throne.

The design, too, is excellent, all black and white and flashes of red, evocative of the blood that's been spilled and will surely be spilled again. But the brutal conclusion feels predictable, rather than inevitable; the final words are clever, yet I found I missed a true sense of the tragedy as the cycle of violence begins once again.

The main problem – and I have to say this, otherwise I'm just not being honest – is that Scott is a notably stronger actor than the rest of the cast, who struggled horribly with delivery in the sizeable space of the Warren. So on the whole, this was a disappointment – but there's a good concept here, and potential to build a more compelling play around an interesting central narrative.

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