The House of Shadows

Thu 9th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Jessica Reid

at 23:36 on 14th Aug 2012

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'The House of Shadows' is a two-man show, telling the story of a writer and his complex relationship with his shadow. It starts in a manner similar to 'The Pillowman', with the writer being forced to explain his stories – or be killed. It is a strong and captivating beginning.

The play is an intellectual piece dealing with issues about writing and ownership. In this case of the Man and his Shadow, who has a greater claim to life and memories, once their union is severed? It is an interesting theme although sometimes the storytelling becomes rather too wordy and descriptive: more action or narrative would be an improvement.

While 'The House of Shadows' is polished, performed well and the plot is intriguing, the characters failed to engage me emotionally. The Man is too hopeless and detached from reality. The Shadow is too pugnacious and superior. Neither demonstrates any major development either intellectually or emotionally. Consequently, although I found their relationship unusual and the plot imaginative, I did not really care what happened to them.

As is prevalent in many Edinburgh Fringe shows, 'The House of Shadows' seems undecided about its style. Should the acting be physical and symbolic or is it better suited to naturalism? This show attempts to use both forms which is a little unsatisfying for the spectators because the actors never fully delve into either type. In spite of this, Peter Bestoso and Bryan Hauder perform their roles with conviction. They also maintain strong levels of energy and their show is well-rehearsed.

Overall, 'The House of Shadows' is based upon an interesting concept but would be improved by being shorter and tighter or by placing more of an emphasis on becoming more emotionally enthralling and diverse.

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Thomas Stell

at 03:27 on 15th Aug 2012

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There was once a man who lost his shadow. It travelled the world and became more substantial, almost like a person. Then it returned to its old possessor, who now began to grow weak. The shadow married a princess, and had the man, now believed to be himself a shadow, executed. So goes the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on which 'The House of Shadows' is based. It is a sinister story, with the kind of horror in it that draws us to the darker examples of the genre. Unfortunately this version does not preserve this quality; it is lost in the introduction and laboured treatment of new ideas, and insufficiently good writing.

When the play begins, a man is writing at his desk. Like his counterpart in Andersen, his concern is with beauty, truth and goodness. The shadow enters in a Venetian mask of the Bauta variety and seizes him from behind. He blindfolds him and orders him to write. The shadow is now far too obviously a symbol of a part of the writers personality: already he has lost his mystery. Similarly the princess the shadow will marry becomes a woman with whom the writer had an affair, and whom he cannot forget. This then brings in the theme of how a writer takes episodes from his life and the lives of others and makes them into art for he is, you see, trying to turn the love affair into a story. How an artist works, and where his inspiration comes from, is an interesting question, but it overcomplicates the fairytale plot, and it is also difficult to take it seriously here because the man’s expressions of joy in his art are not specific enough. He wants to write words that will “inspire, challenge, attack, infiltrate, abolish, diffuse, destroy”, which is too vague to signify much and cannot make us believe he is truly an artist.

This is part of a more general problem of shabby prose – we hear of “rekindling” young love, a moment that is “eternally clear” and patience that is “wearing thin”. The script contains many such badly chosen phrases and clichés. Peter Bestoso plays The Learned Man. He does not allow us to like him as much as we should be able to, as he is a little too tense to be expressive, but Bryan Kauder plays a slightly camp shadow we can really hate, so at least we are never on the side of the wrong character.

Modern ideas of psychology have unfortunately destroyed the simplicity of this fairytale, and it was its simplicity that would have given the work its mysticism and its eeriness.

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