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The House of Shadows
Published on Sunday, 26 August 2012
5

5 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11 Aug, 2:10pm-2:55pm; 13-18, 20-25 Aug, 4:10pm-4:55pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Well, finally. After roughly a month of looking, I’ve finally found a production on this year’s Fringe that sets out to unsettle the audience and, at the same time, takes itself halfway seriously. That alone would be enough for me to sing its praises from here to Land’s End, but Glass Elevator Theatre have gone one better by putting on quite possibly the best production I’ve seen in Edinburgh this year. It’s almost greedy of them.

The House of Shadows is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Shadow – but concerns itself with struggling writer Joseph Lambert, who can’t bring himself to forget a long lost love of his, Lucinda. To snap himself out of his funk he moves to “the hot countries”, planning to write his masterpiece and get himself accepted into the “Cult of Beauty”, who promise fame and legacy to all who join. Coincidently he finds out that Lucinda lives on the balcony opposite him but, unable to find her anywhere else, his shadow detaches itself from him and goes to investigate. His shadow never returns and develops a personality of its own, finally becoming obsessed with the idea of becoming human.

Needless to say, this is as far from formulaic as you can possibly get while still nominally being an “adaptation”. The production is built around two actors, Peter Bestoso as the writer and Bryan Kauder as the Shadow, both of whom give powerhouse performances in their own right. Kauder evolves from subservient to magnificently hateable through the course of the show, while Bestoso manages to pull off being put-upon in the extreme, while never veering into self-pity. The interplay between the two men is one of the many reasons this show works so well; Kauder and Bestoso have a chemistry that means it’s equally believable when the two characters are literally inseperable as when they’re mortal enemies.

Despite the profound themes on show – of the nature of humanity, art and revenge – this is also a very subtle show, with entire character developments being effectively displayed by a subtle costume change, or a repetition of a previous line with a new context. Even the venue’s threadbare lights were put to good use, framing the actors in ways that effectively mirrored the character arcs. This is a highly intimate show, in a very small venue with both actors constantly talking directly to members of the audience, although the intimacy of the show I saw might have been exacerbated by the fact that I was one of three audience members present. Which is, quite frankly, criminal.

It feels a shame that I have to nit-pick, but at 45 minutes, some of the story felt slightly rushed. And the precise nature of the “Cult Of Beauty” felt slightly ill-defined as opposed to mysterious. But that occurs to me only on reflection; during the show it felt as natural as breathing. These minor quibbles never detracted from my enjoyment the show, and I was thoroughly hooked throughout.

In all, this is something of a holy grail for anyone who… well, anyone who isn’t looking for something to laugh at for an hour. Anyone who’s seen enough stand-up comics and improv groups to last them the rest of the year, go and see The House Of Shadows. It’s dark, creative, surreal, bleak yet never pointlessly so; quite simply, it’s brilliant. Buy a ticket before the end of this sentence. Done it? Good.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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