Monday, 5 June 2023

REVIEW: The Shape of Things at Park Theatre 200

When a play opens with the seminal 90s hit ‘the female of the Species’ you know it’s making a firm statement about the subject matter. Most will recognise the phrase as a top 20 hit for Liverpool band Space, but its origins lie in a legendary poem by Rudyard Kipling. He remarked on the greater deadliness of female bears and cobras compared to their male counterparts. Applied in a modern context it might be seen as a metaphor for the influence women can exert over men. Writer Neil LaBute explores these themes and other romantic dilemmas in this thoroughly entertaining play, now revived at the excellent Park Theatre.

The story begins with Adam (Luke Newton) working at an art gallery, one of two jobs he holds down to pay his way through college. He meets the quirky and mysterious Evelyn (Amber Anderson) who is majoring in modern arts. Adam falls instantly and madly in love with Evelyn. She soon discovers a malleability that gives her a distinct edge in their relationship. Adam is anxious to please and dutifully complies with some carefully placed suggestions of self-improvement. Adam’s best friend Phil (Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy) is incredulous that he’s fallen for such cheap manipulation. The tension gently cranks up as Phil is dating Adam’s old flame Jenny (Carla Harrison-Hodge).

A clever and witty script dances around the characters whose relationship veers from polite to jokey and open hostility. Luke is the eager young puppy grateful to have found his new love. The stoic and dependable Phil cannot resist pulling at the shaky façade Adam is trying to build. Jenny knows the boys better than she should, and there are no end of truth bombs she can lob into the argument. And at the centre of it all is the scheming and duplicitous Evelyn; an emotional puppet master who seemed to have an agenda from day one.

For a play that runs in excess of two hours it never drags, nor does it feel laboured or padded in any respect. Every scene, glance and mannerism feels integral to the narrative and tells the audience something new about the characters. The cast are excellent but it’s Amber Anderson that walks away with the honours; especially in the barnstorming finale which delivers a surprising sting in the tail. A superlative play that needs to be seen in the intimate atmosphere offered by the Park Theatre.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls C7 | Price of Ticket: £39.50
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