Let the Right One In at the Royal Court and why I'm nervous and excited
Review: Let The Right One In at the Royal Court

Review: Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things at the Arcola

The Shape of Things, Arcola, Dec 2013, IMG_1858 - courtesy Maximilien Spielbichler
Anna Bamberger as Evelyn and Sean McConaghy as Adam. Production photo by Maximillien Spielbichler

The few Neil LaBute plays I've seen have been distinctive for having obnoxious characters - he seems to be a master at writing them. The Shape of Things, which is being revived at the Arcola Theatre, is no different.

Here the obnoxious characters are Evelyn (Anna Bamberger) a confident and knowingly beautiful art student and Philip (Séan Browne) the equally confident and handsome friend of Adam (Sean McConaghy), who is the protagonist.

Adam is a nerdy, awkward, plain student who works in a museum to pay his college fees. He's the sort of person that someone like Philip hangs around with in order to feel superior and similarly for someone like Evelyn he is impressionable.

Evelyn meets Adam at the museum and flirts with him despite his social clumsiness. They date and a relationship develops during which, through Evelyn's influence, Adam starts taking care of himself, changes his styling and hair and ditches his contact lenses.

The makeover gives Adam confidence, something that impresses Philip and his fiancé Jenny (Harrie Hayes) although they aren't so impressed with Evelyn who becomes forthright and argumentative. But that isn't the only thing about Evelyn, there is something that doesn't quite ring true about her that is hard to pin point and her personality becomes as destructive as it is constructive.

The Shape of Things is an intriguing play with an unexpected denoument. It examines love and acceptance and how far you'd go for it. And, like LaBute's Reason's to Be Pretty, it also looks at the obsession with appearance. At times and often for ironic reasons I was reminded of the line in Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

It is nicely staged with the ancient sculpture by which Evelyn and Adam first meet dismantling to provide all the pieces of furniture in subsequent scenes. It is also nicely acted and I couldn't help noticing Evelyn's outfits, which is something of a rarity for me in a modern dress piece. Everything she wore oozed a cool, sexual power and I coveted her red leather jacket.

At 95 minutes straight through The Shape of Things packs punch with laughs and shocks and much to think about. It runs at the Arcola until 21 December.


For this one I'm going to have to refer you to my Sweet Bird of Youth review because Sean McConaghy was in that with Kim Cattrall and Seth Numrich and I found connections to both of them but I'm too lazy to repeat the trail here.