Search

What Shadows, Park Theatre, review: ‘Powerful polemic brings up difficult dilemmas’

PUBLISHED: 14:20 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:21 09 October 2017

Ian McDiarmid plays Enoch Powell in What Shadows. Picture: MIHAELA BODLOVIC

Ian McDiarmid plays Enoch Powell in What Shadows. Picture: MIHAELA BODLOVIC

Archant

“You can only despise your own voters for so long. They will judge you as you judge them, measure for measure.”

It’s nearly 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered the infamous Rivers of Blood speech to a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham.

Often misquoted, the full text of the speech is the centrepiece of this astonishing transfer from Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Powell is played with uncanny and sympathetic naturalism by Ian McDiarmid and his committed, vowel strangled, almost grotesque, delivery reminds us that the speech still has the power to shock.

What Shadows is much more than a re-examination of the 60s colour bar, race relations and racialism. It is a sometimes brutal questioning of what we mean by identity – the identity of an individual, the identity of a race and nation and how we grant admission to outsiders seeking to enter.

The opening scene is strange: a middle-aged woman (Joanna Pearce who also gives fine account as Enoch’s wife) is mending lobster pots. She is joined by Rose Cruickshank (impressively played by Amelia Donkor). They know each other through academia – the former’s career wrecked by the latter’s accusations of racism. They agree to resolve their issues by research – an examination of racism through the medium of Enoch Powell.

This powerful polemic take us to some dark places, difficult dilemmas and bitter exchanges. Does rueing a lost neighbourhood make a person racist? Can a black person be a racist? Do we discover or create who we are?

There are echoes here of the Brexit referendum as a vote against the political establishment: in a chilling moment of insight Powell says: “You can only despise your own voters for so long. They will judge you as you judge them, measure for measure.”

Playwright Chris Hannan’s work takes no sides but exposes the contradictions and confusions of liberalism as falling far short of the certainly most of us crave.

The staging and performances were wonderful: Ameet Chana’s salty, pragmatic Sultan a brilliant pairing with Paula Wilcox’s tragic-comic Grace, and Nicholas le Prevost perfect as journalist Clem Jones.

Four stars

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Islington Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Islington Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Islington Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Islington Entertainment Stories

Yesterday, 10:40

At Hackney Showroom, $elfie$ by Malik Nashad Sharp, aka marikiscrycrycry, talks about issues of nationalism, gun violence and the black, queer aesthetic

Yesterday, 08:00

Zoe spends a stylish weekend in Paris, visiting the newly opened Yves Saint Laurent museum

Wed, 17:52

North London Chorus continues its 40th anniversary season with Zurich’s Contrapunto Chor, who are currently celebrating their own 30th birthday.

Wed, 11:53

Third outing for Noel and friends is surprising in a good way – even (whisper it) fun.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now