Image: Tristan Bates Theatre
Ross White - James
Madeline Hatt - Nat
“Love is like a cactus.”
Nat and James work together, struggling against a possibly imagined attraction, without the space to explore their chemistry.
Dissecting the pressures of modern day romance and a feeling of complacency, Shadows sees Nat delve into fantasy, never sure if James is flirting with her, or if they are edging closer to friendship.
As her expectations move further away from reality, Nat must try to break away from a life where she feels desperately stuck.
When attraction isn't as simple as love at first sight, how do our brains compensate for our innate desire to be loved?
During the first half of this play, I was waiting for some a surprise from either of the two characters we meet here.
At first, I thought that Ross White's James might be harbouring a violent streak, or some other trait that was going to kick this play about workmates into top gear and provide some revelations.
Then I thought Madeline Hatt's Nat might be the one to spring something on us and perhaps turn into some kind of monster, or at the very least prove herself to be something more exciting or dangerous than a part-time pianist with an interest in Chopin.
By the last section of the play, I was getting desperate to have something out of the ordinary happen - and by that stage I didn't care who provided the dramatic stimulation.
Sadly, though, apart from a relatively minor workplace squabble, nothing extraordinary bursts out of Shadows, leaving me rather unaffected and, at times, a little bored.
Well, having said that, something does happen to Nat, but it's not sufficiently powerful in terms of drama to make the play as a whole stimulating enough.
The basic plot is about two ordinary people facing fairly mundane and ordinary working lives.
When we join the characters, James is training Nat for work in what seems to be a pub, or cafe-bar, where there are times when the clientele are in short supply, leaving time for the staff to chat.
Nat and James rub along with each other well-enough, though James seems unduly reluctant to share anything with Nat about his personal life.
But, after a while, Nat begins to imagine romance blossoming between the two of them.
Not far from the end of the piece, it suddenly began to dawn on me that some scenes seemed to be repeated with different outcomes.
By that stage, though, with many other similar scenes running into each other, I wondered if I was just becoming desperate enough to imagine that added layer of complexity.
That device has immense possibilities - both for drama and considerable humour, but the alternate scenes needed to be exaggerated to make them stronger, with more significant gear-shifts in the characterisations.
Now there's absolutely nothing wrong with a drama that explores ordinariness, routine, and the tedious repetition that many of us face during a typical day.
But successfully realising that means finding something different in ordinariness and repetition to make it interesting for an audience, to really draw them in and allow them to identify with the characters.
Though both Madeline Hatt and Ross White certainly have the skills to tackle more demanding situations, they don't have the means here to demonstrate their evident strengths.
Yet there were opportunities for them to step-out of their relatively ordinary characters - for example in imagined scenes - which would have shown us more about their needs, dreams and ambitions.
Lurking in Shadows is the germ of a good idea which deserves further development, for the production as a whole shows ample promise with accomplished skill revealed in terms of design and direction, as well as acting.
But the creative team need to reflect on just how watchable the piece is for an audience - as it stands, it's just as ordinary as the characters' working lives.
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ActDrop listing for Tristan Bates Theatre
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