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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Fisher

Shed: Exploded View review – love, loss and horrific male violence

Darker purpose … Lizzy Watts as Naomi in Shed: Exploded View, at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester.
Darker purpose … Lizzy Watts as Naomi in Shed: Exploded View, at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester. Photograph: Johan Persson

Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s disturbing new play is defined by dislocation. It is in the way she overlaps the dialogue in the fractured exchanges between her three central couples: Abi and Mark, the student lovers; Lil and Tony, several times married; and Naomi and Frank, the generation in between. The conversation switches abruptly from one pairing to another, echoing, interrupting and never settling for long.

It is also in the way Eclair-Powell plays with time. The movement is broadly chronological, starting with a new year’s kiss at the dawn of 1994 and moving to the present day through marriage, childbirth, illness and pandemic isolation. But time is also fragmented, with the story looping back and forth to show parallels and expose secrets.

The effects are amplified in Atri Banerjee’s sharp and fluid production, performed on the three concentric circles of Naomi Dawson’s set, each revolving at its own pace, with scene titles chalked on the floor to show the accumulated weight of the past. Seemingly innocuous exchanges, the everyday stuff of domestic relationships, start to carry an edge of menace in this collage of love and loss. The more the tension grows between the characters, the more Banerjee positions the actors at odd angles and alienating distances.

Hayley Carmichael and Wil Johnson.
Hayley Carmichael and Wil Johnson. Photograph: Johan Persson

The formal dislocation of the writing and staging is an expression of the playwright’s darker purpose. At the heart of the play – the winner of the 2019 Bruntwood prize – are the three women, none of whom are in charge of their own destiny. Naomi (Lizzy Watts) loads her garden shed with symbols of a life over which she has lost control. Abi (Norah Lopez Holden) is her daughter, unknowingly coerced by a short-fuse husband (Michael Workéyè). Lil (Hayley Carmichael) is the survivor trying vainly to warn the younger women not to repeat her mistakes.

Until the violence in their lives manifests itself in a horrific attack, it is all but invisible. With Jason Hughes and Wil Johnson completing the cast as Frank and Tony, the women’s partners come across as reasonable and charming, and believe themselves to be exactly that. The women have no words to describe the men’s hidden power, only an inarticulate fury exacerbated by swirling shards of memory in a play that is as subtle as it is unsettling.

• At Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 2 March

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