Review: Peter Schlemiel
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Cast and creatives
Based on a dark German folk tale, Peter Schlemiel is the arresting story of an ordinary man who exchanges his shadow for endless fortune and fame, and faces the consequences.
Transferring from its premiere at Mountview Academy, Matthew Bosley’s new adaptation is a robust, physical and darkly humorous retelling which confronts all-too-resonating feelings of status anxiety and isolation.
The story for this production comes from a novella written in 1814 by an exiled French aristocrat called Adelbert von Chamisso.
Apparently the story was originally intended for children, but gained widespread popularity in many countries.
Peter Schlemiel is an ordinary and somewhat naive kind of man, who is seeking to better himself by becoming the servant of a well-to-do woman.
In the process of getting himself known to the lady in question, he is confronted by an irresistible offer from an enigmatic 'man in grey'.
The mysterious man offers Peter unimaginable wealth by gifting him Forunato's magic purse which keeps generating endless amounts of cash - never getting empty.
The downside to the bargain is that Peter has to give the man his shadow.
Now, since one's shadow would seem to be a worthless asset, the deal appears too good to be true, and so it proves.
Initially, Peter's life is transformed with luxurious living, but then the absence of his shadow causes consternation among everyone he encounters and he becomes a social outcast only able to venture out at night.
Adapted and directed by Matthew Bosley and originally premiered at the Postgraduate Theatre Directors’ season at Mountview Academy, the production has much the feel of a radio play with the added bonus of live acting thrown in for good measure.
An extensive soundscape - with well-chosen music and effects - ranges omni-present in the background and Peter's recorded voice fills in the details to the action played-out on stage.
Normally, I don't believe that narrators, or narration in general add much to a stage-based story - I much prefer to be shown what is happening rather than be told.
But here the narration adds to the action rather than usurping or supplanting it, and so it doesn't become intrusive or irritating.
The first half of the play exploits the humour of the situations Peter finds himself in - but it's carefully controlled so it doesn't become excessive, and we never lose the sense that something unnerving and sinister underlies events.
Later, of course, there's a significant shift of tone as Peter is shunned by society and the devil returns with a more devious and sinister ploy.
Matthew Bosley's well-balanced and inventive direction incorporates interesting and descriptive physical movement which at times borders on dance, but also features a touch of the grotesque - with appropriate glimpses of pantomime or farce.
Alex Marlow is well-cast in the lead as the honest and unsophisticated Peter, who can't believe his luck when he suddenly finds himself rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Mr Marlow provides an almost understated Peter - an innocent abroad if you will - but it's nevertheless a captivating and potent performance, and he is excellently supported by Georgina Terry, Billy Irving and Philippa Rose who easily slip-in to a variety of roles as the story unfolds.
Of course, the proposition that losing one's shadow can lead to being a social pariah may seem ludicrous to our sophisticated present-day intellects.
However, that doesn't spoil the piece - if anything it adds to it since there are obvious symbolic implications and connections here which aptly fit important issues in our present-day society.
Though the ending seemed rather abrupt, overall there's a great deal to enjoy and admire in Peter Schlemiel: interesting ideas, subtle - and not so subtle - touches of humour, confident and credible acting, an effectively-designed soundscape - all delivered with a vigour that never flags.
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