Rats in the Shadows

Our second night out in a row.  I recall saying about a month ago that we would have no social life while rehearsing Onegin, it has turned out not to be true – tired, yes; frantically busy, yes; but going all sorts of places.

This is where being part of the community opera pays off, you get to hear about, and want to experience, things that might otherwise pass you by.  Liz and Judith, fellow members of Blackheath Chorus alert us to their involvement, and it went into the ‘if there’s time bracket’ until I read the flier properly, looked at the dates and thought, “oh why not, Shoreditch is easy now we’ve got the overground,” and convinced A that we could fit it in.

How glad I am we did.

We are Shadow is a new work by John Barber and Hazel Gould, and tells the story of Toby (Robert Anthony Gardiner), who has a shadow which he doesn’t know to appreciate, and Rattus Rattus (Adam Green) who has looked up, seen the sun and fallen in love with the idea of shadows, and how RR steals Toby’s shadow and the consequences for all involved.  The Rats & Shadows idea attracted me, being fond of myths, as regular readers will know(!)

The production was part of the Spitalfields Music festival, at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. (I once tried to visit this church with my Gran when we were doing our tour of all the churches on London, it was locked so it was an additional pleasure to finally see inside.)

Because we changed our minds about which night we were going it was a last minute booking and we ended up in the gallery, which gave restricted views unless we stood up and leant over, which upset the stewards, but we didn’t care, we wanted to see.

On entering the church we were encouraged to take a circuit of the building and take in the soundscape, and the nests of child-rats hissing at us from piles of crates with glee.

The Shadow, brilliantly, and silently, danced by Krystian Godlewski , dressed in subtly darker but identical clothes to Toby follows him like an eager dog or lovelorn jester, copying and exaggerating his every move, capering away and back, leaning at crazy angles, making suggestions for stories as Toby struggles to find creativity at the end of the corporate day, in his lonely apartment.  With great ingenuity the Shadow is voiced by 5 of The Sixteen: Katy Hill Stuart Young, David Clegg, Sam Boden and Kirsty Hopkins, in multilayered refracting harmony and dissonance which sound difficult to do, and absolutely glorious.  I could listen to this all day, I hope it is recorded at some point.

Rattus R. and the baby-rats come to steal the shadow, and Toby, terrified out of his wits, gives it to them. Toby’s squeak of ‘NO!’ when RR asks if he is scared, is pitch perfect; denial, bravado and terror in one syllable.

The rats squeak and scuttle most convincingly, it’s all in the movement, as the only concession to costume is wearing black, and knitted hats with ears attached.   Two in particular had got the dainty belligerence just right; having taken live young rats away from my cats on many occasions, I have had opportunities to observe these warriors of the rodent world more closely that I entirely wish to!

Vocally the Rats were good too, fearless and tuneful and threatening (we’ll set a trap on you – a theme apparently written by one of the children), there was an additional chorus of rats not taking part in the action to add weight at crucial moments.  I did feel however that the hand movements incorporated into the rat songs weren’t entirely successful, possibly instigated to help them learn the words? It didn’t look quite ratlike enough.

The stolen shadow fades and repines (without him I am nothing), but is given new strength by dawn and light through a grating into the rats’ underground home.  This was one of the most moving moments in the show, the 5/16 gathering around the Shadow like beams of light singing his thoughts, brought tears to my eyes.

Meanwhile, Toby sets off for work as usual, stops to chat to the girl he always buys his coffee from (Fiona Marris), and is not recognised… by her, or by the security machine at work.  Without his shadow he has no identity, and is cast adrift.  He begins to realise he’s in trouble.

The commuter scenes are a delight, once again the movement is spot on; trying to make your own space on crowded tube, the reluctant bustle.  The Spitalfields Singers Community Chorus have an excellent clean sound (if we sound as good for Onegin I shall be very pleased) and are given a lot of fun things to do, being the machine rejecting Toby at work (Access Denied!!), shrieking with horror, when Toby asks if anyone has seen his shadow (Rats? Here?!) and my favourite, singing their voice mail messages while they relax in the park over lunchtime  (I am away from my desk).

The evocation of the cityscape is supported by massive photographic banners which are raised and lowered by ‘construction workers’ to indicate whether the action is on street level or below.  The construction team also arrived in response to the screaming commuters’ fear of rats, proudly bearing a wholly inadequate mousetrap complete with cheese.

Musically a small ensemble play crisply and wittily under the direction of, an excellent conductor Natalie Murray, who oozes calm and authority.  I particularly like the use of accordion (Rafal Luc), especially when the machine rejects Toby’s security pass, an indignant wheezing note is a surprisingly graphic rendition of rejection.

The Shadow rebels at being treated like a slave by R Rattus, and runs away, trying to find a way home to Toby.  Toby, wandering about cast out of his life, hears the Shadow calling him and goes down into the sewer to rescue him. Rattus reveals that he believes he has no shadow, and encouraged by Toby goes out into the sun, and meets his Shadow, danced by Irene Cioni with spiky grace.  They dance together in excitement in a charming pas de deux of flamenco and goodness knows what else.  Toby and shadow go home to a life filled with creativity and mutual appreciation.

Movement was incredibly important to this piece, well observed, ingenious and integral, and seemingly not choreographed by a specific person, so presumably down to director Mia Theil Have, or the dancers and ensemble. Take a bow whoever you are.

We are Shadows is a charming, delightful, humorous, engrossing, moving, TRIUMPH.

You can see a tiny snippet of the production in rehearsal here.

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

1 thought on “Rats in the Shadows

  1. Pingback: Eugene Onegin – final performance 17th July 2011 | Cherry Potts, Writer

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