What could be a two hour long lecture about the history of immigration politics in Britain turned out to be, at most an empathetic approach to those struggling to find or to protect their identity in the rapidly changing face of Britain; Or at least an informative history lesson about the multi-cultural heritage of today's Britain. What Shadows which premiered at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 2016 comes to The Lyceum in a reeling Post-Brexit Britain where the topics of immigration and racism are as poignant today as they were when Powell made his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.
Ian McDairmid is almost unrecognisable as the contumacious Enoch Powell. His meticulous performance shines throughout the show, from the harsh nasal cadence’s of his voice, to the tremors in the old mans hands, McDairmid breathes life into this fierce and opinionated politician at the height of his career and at its demise. Accompanied by a diverse cast who act with humour and compassion, they bring the lives of the residents of a street in Wolverhampton to the forefront of the argument on immigration. Real people battling issues of identity, cultural heritage, immigration and racism in what could have potentially been a political word battle are expertly personified in Chris Hannan’s intellectually stimulating work.
Hannan’s fiercely objective text rationalises the political stance of each character involved (without the filtration of various press outlets) through their backgrounds, thoughts and motivations and allows the audience to go on this journey of objectivity, but to a fault. In the absence of one hammered home political statement or an asking of the audience to choose a side, clarity of opinion was lost and raised more questions than it answered when it came to its conclusion in narrative. Though leaving me frustrated, I suppose it leaves us open to continue our search (much as Rose Cruikshank is) into our own opinions of our current cultural identity in Britain. But the play is not entirely about Enoch Powell. Successful and argumentative Rose Cruickshank (Amelia Donkor) who is a young, black oxford academic provides the catalyst for the discussions of racism and the effect the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech had on the young immigrants of Britain. However Donkor’s performance feels a little one dimensional and almost too theatrical when pushed up against the natural ease and subtle nuances which the majority of the rest of the cast effortlessly express.
Designer (Ti Green) and Video Designer (Louis Price) do a terrific job transporting us from Scottish Shores to a B&B in Wolverhampton using little more than projection and lighting to achieve this. It warms up a potentially cold set to reflect different seasons and locations as we are gently transported around the English Landscape which is referred to time and time again in the script. Despite feeling like many of my new questions have gone unanswered my interest and sympathy of the subject has spiked! I would encourage anyone of any background to go an see this play. - Lucy Newbery