Paved with good intentions

Autobahn – The King’s Head Theatre, until  20 September 2014

Filed by our roving reviewer, Emily Howe

Currently running at the Kings Head Theatre in London, Savio(u)r presents the professional UK premiere of Neil LaBute’s Autobahn. Set on the highways of America, this is a series of seven vignettes, each taking place in the front seats of a car. A combination of monologues and duologues, the scenes are unrelated to each other in their narratives and characters, but where they overlap is in their structure. With each, the audience must autobahn 1spend a few minutes detecting what relationship the characters bear to each other and what situation we are intruding on; then as the scene plays out, we see the layers gradually unfold, and slowly realise that – in many of the scenes – the situation is not quite as clear-cut as it may initially have seemed.

Zoe Swenson-Graham, Tom Slatter, Henry Everett and Sharon Maughan in Autobahn, King's Head Theatre - (c) Scott RylanderAll seven scenes were performed by just four actors, so there was a fair amount of multi-roling. This worked very well, and I enjoyed seeing the same faces tackle vastly different characters and styles. In a play of this style – where movement is minimal and the actors are facing out to the audience for the duration of the scenes – the challenge for the actors is that there is nowhere for them to hide, as we can identify every thought-change that crosses their faces. Therefore, the performances, character development, and clarity of sub-text need to be spot-on. All of the actors rose to this challenge and the performances were truthful, engaging, and often darkly funny. Particular mention should go to Zoë Swenson-Graham who shone in each of her four very different characters.

The staging was simple but effective. The front half of a car was the main focus on stage, with a large screen behind showing a film of the varying roads and views where the scenes were taking place. A soundscape during each scene added to the atmosphere.

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The Shape of Things to come? We may already be there.

The Shape of Things – Arcola Theatrebooking until 21 December

Somewhat eschewing the traditions of the season the Arcola Theatre is currently injecting a strain of mordant black humour into the midst of this period of good cheer by reviving Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things; an acidic examination of the nature of art and the nature of human relationships.

Over a decade old, it is strikingly, and depressingly apparent, that it has not just avoided ageing but actually feels more relevant now than when it was written. Society’s obsession with the value of appearance over substanceThe Shape of Things, Arcola, Dec 2013, IMG_1858 - courtesy Maximilien Spielbichler has only increased over the last ten years and shows no sign of abating in a world of viral memes and 160 character assassinations.

We were given a timely reminder of how proud we should feel about what humanity has accomplished in the recent admission by a double-gold medal winning Olympian that they feel insecure next to someone whose only achievement comes from winning Miss UK. It is unclear whether this admission is made more or less powerful by it coming in the middle of show where viewers vote to choose which celebrity eats a kangeroo’s anus.

Neil LaBute’s play opens with a discussion on the vandalism, or potential transformation, of a sculpture. It has already been vandalised/transformed once, to cover the genitals, and so the question arises of whether spray-painting a penis back on counters as further vandalism or is closer to the originally artistic intention. In its questioning of an artist’s right to transform, without permission, a body of work if the effect is to elevate it to a higher plane, LaBute is capturing the spirit of the entire play in a nutshell.

Transformation is the theme that recurs again and again throughout the play. Adam makes constant reference to literary transformations and they act as a reflection on his changing relationship with what is occurring. Early on he refers to Evelyn, playfully, as his Henry Higgins as he begins to see a world of possibilities opening up before him but towards the end of play this opinion has been modified and he sees himself as Kafka’s Gregor Samza; transformed into something that is to be despised.

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