The Shape of Things – Original Theatre Online

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director: Nicky Allpress

Writer: Neil LaBute

Pitched somewhere between dark comedy and modern morality tale, the recent revival of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things at Park Theatre, now available to stream, shows that his play is in no danger of losing its edge. Starring Luke Newton (Bridgerton) and Amber Anderson (Black Mirror), the nearly-bare stage is transformed, within a few lines of dialogue, into a museum set in a small American college town.

Adam (Newton) is a student, moonlighting as a security guard. He eyes a glamorous older girl, Evelyn (Anderson) who stares at a statue of a male nude. She produces a can of paint and threatens to spray it. Adam, nervy and socially awkward, tries to talk her around. Evelyn is a Fine Art student, and working on her final thesis. She admires the statue but deplores the town’s attempt at censorship. The statue’s penis, after protest and petition, was hidden with fig leaves. The two students vibe with each other, and before long, they are dating. Evelyn pushes Adam to make changes in his life, suggesting he goes to the gym, gets a better haircut. She mentions he might think about getting a nose job. This makeover is more Frankenstein than Pygmalion.

As the play breaks down whether Evelyn’s passing grade will hinge on provocation or art, it is the emotional fallout of the relationships that works best. In the scene where we meet Adam’s friends Phil (a clever performance from Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy) and Jenny (Carla Harrison-Hodge), we sense an unspoken attraction between Jenny and Adam; but she is due to marry Phil. Evelyn eagerly stirs the pot.

LaBute’s 2001 play saw its debut in the theatre, before a film in 2003, which starred Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz. This online production borrows a cinematic slickness and merges it with a knowing theatricality. Director Nicky Allpress also takes the play back to its roots, casting The Shape of Things in a late ’90s bubble. The musical references – Blink 182 and Space’s 1996 hit Female of the Speciesblend with an early fascination with Starbucks and a lingering fondness for Friends (the first time around).

What this does – as opposed to positioning the play in a contemporary setting – is set us at a remove. Nostalgia aside, our opinions of modern art, sexual politics and consent, have all shifted in the intervening years. We see them through a sharper lens. But LaBute’s commentary on our obsession with “the surface of things” stays uncomfortably close. Evelyn notices how everyone is more interested in Adam the more the “shape” of him changes. As the weight drops off, and the nose job begins to heal, the remoulding sees his confidence soar, and his demeanour changes. The “better” he becomes, the further he is pulled away from his authenticity. The earlier Adam was an open book; the upgraded version has secrets.

A lot has changed since 2001, but The Shape of Things argues that while subjectivity and reality are open to interpretation, morality is not so mutable. LaBute asks us (again) where we would draw the line.

Available here to stream

The Reviews Hub Score

A modern morality tale

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

One Comment

  1. thank you, helen, for your thoughtful take on my play and the recent revival (and this recorded version of the production that is now available in the UK)! live and recorded theater needs all the help it can get and you getting the word out for people to watch this is hugely appreciated by all involved with the show; keep up the good work and keep watching/writing about great things!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub