Please note: This review – like the production itself – mentions sexual assault, Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault allegations made against individuals in the entertainment industry. Please take care when reading and click off this article if these subjects are triggering to you.
Three neurodivergent and disabled individuals have summoned us to a public meeting to give us a message, with the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre providing a fitting backdrop to their address to us, the audience. It’s challenging and tense, pauses in between lines giving non-disabled audience members the time to sit with its questions around our bodies.
It starts with a conversation about touching another person and consent, later revisiting the subject matter with references to Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault allegations in the entertainment industry. A sensitive subject matter, of course, but one which feels out of place in a play about disability. It may well be interrogating the many ways in which human beings interact with anatomy and autonomy, but the play’s overarching theme of dependency isn’t as pronounced as it needs to be to connect all of its scenes together.
The most powerful argument relates to artificial intelligence (AI), with a Siri-like voice recognition machine above the stage transcribing their conversations with fluctuating accuracy. “Subtitling is offensive,” says Sarah (Sarah Mainwaring), in reference to having her speech “polished” by the technology. It’s a strong critique of non-disabled people’s reluctance to listen and understand, even if it does catch Deaf people like me in the crossfire.
It does, however, tap into a fascinating idea which one wishes was explored further. AI is regularly monstered as evil and apocalyptic in nature, reminding us of our limitations and reliance on other things, and yet, society is more than happy to place limitations on people with intellectual disabilities, wrongly assuming what they can or can’t do. Its exposé of this rank hypocrisy is excellent, masterful and scathing.
Shadow works best in the pauses and the silence, which makes the interspersing of dramatic, thundering music from the Luke Howard Trio disorientating, distracting and unnecessary. There is a sense, of course, that the play’s imperfections tap into a wider point on accepting we will all make mistakes, but there is little cohesion at its core to allow room for its more off-beat commentary.
Sarah and Scott (Scott Price) – the latter of whom is autistic – hint at a potential romance or close friendship, despite spending most of the time arguing over who will deliver the main message, “empowering” Sarah and the semantics of disability. In the middle of the two of them is Simon (Simon Laherty), who spends most of the time taken aback by what’s unfolding. Scott, in his direct and emotive delivery of lines, is particularly striking – especially as he outlines the cruelty of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries atop a polystyrene podium. There are pockets of brilliance in Shadow in its wider plea for us to unite, but there’s little which bounds it together itself.
The Shadow Whose Pray the Hunter Becomes is now playing at Battersea Arts Centre until 22 October. All performances are relaxed with captions, with an audio described performance taking place at 8pm on 22 October.
It will then play at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts in Brighton from 26-28 October, before a run at Leeds Playhouse from 2-5 November.
Production Images: Kira Kynd.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.