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“Tedious meditation on old age”

Performed in Norwegian with English surtitles, Jon Fosse’s play Shadows has a conceptual premise that depends on a disjuncture between the actor and the character.

Six spherical objects are suspended in mid-air. Projected on each of them is footage of a child speaking lines belonging to a much older character. Below them, four elderly actors represent the characters voiced by the six children. The onstage performers stay silent and mostly static, bathed in dim lighting, as their surrogates discuss situations of reunion, alienation and nostalgia in vague, monotonous fashion.

There is a Beckettian note to both Kari Holtan’s spectral staging and Fosse’s abstract text. Yet this intriguing set-up fails to build up to a particularly expressive or affecting whole. It is never clear how many storylines or characters there are, and the gap between the children’s speech and the performers’ actions remains frustratingly wide.

All six children bring a charmingly evasive quality to their parts, with their deadpan delivery slowly becoming a source of both anxiety and constancy.

Though Boya Bockman’s video design is technically impressive, it’s unclear why the children keep shifting positions across the spheres. Likewise, when members of the onstage ensemble occasionally interact with one another, it’s unclear what they are trying to signify.

With varying degrees of existential bemusement, Fosse’s characters meditate on perennial questions associated with ageing and mortality. But though this stagnant production strives to sound piercingly universal, it merely makes them feel impersonal and detached.

Visible Theatre: At last, older actors get grown-up roles

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Production Details
Production nameShadows
VenueThe Coronet
StartsNovember 6, 2019
EndsNovember 9, 2019
Running time1hr 10mins
AuthorJon Fosse
DirectorKari Holtan
Lighting designerJean-Vincent Kerebel
Video designerBoya Bockman
CastEva Berit Boe Moen, Hans Wedvik, Kari Vik Knutsen, Torbjorn Davidsen
ProducerDe Utvalgte
VerdictConceptually unusual but tedious meditation on old age and mortality
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