Shed: Exploded View, Royal Exchange Manchester Review

Shed: Exploded View, Royal Exchange Manchester Review


Posted 2024-02-18 by David Keyworthfollow

Fri 09 Feb 2024 - Sat 02 Mar 2024

The latest winner of the Royal Exchange’s Bruntwood Prize to be premiered in their main space is a conventional inter-generational story of domestic highs and lows. Except that it isn’t.

As the title implies, the writer, Phoebe Eclair-Powell, exploded the narrative, so that we saw episodes from three couples' lives but not in a simple linear structure. It was as if a series of pages were ripped from diaries and they were thrown up in the air to see where they landed. It was also ironic that the Bruntwood Prize is sponsored by a property company, given the story that unravels on the theatre-in-the-round stage.

Lizzy Watts as Naomi. Image Johan Persson.

The action opened, and ended, on New Year's Eve 1993, with its fireworks and flashes of hope for the future. On a circling stage, the drama focused on Naomi (Lizzy Watts) and Frank (Jason Hughes), their daughter, Abi (Norah Lopez Holden) and her partner Mark (Michael Workéyè).

The older couple were Lil (Hayley Carmichael.) and Tony (Wil Johnson). At times, it seemed as though Lil and Tony, whom Naomi and Frank meet on a Maldives honeymoon, might have been foreshadows of their older selves and Lil certainly had a shade of the kind of prophet found in Greek mythology. She urged Naomi and, later, Abi, to ‘run’ and warned that ‘sand turns to glass’.

The script employed overlapping dialogue, which could have been jarring but Phoebe Eclair-Powell has a great ear for dialogue and it gave the play a rhythmic and unifying quality. The writing was particularly attuned to the way that we tend to build up to painful revelations in half-completed sentences.

Norah Lopez Holden as Abi. Image Johan Persson.

The only downside of the non-linear approach was that it sometimes made it hard to develop empathy for the characters - as we didn’t follow their narrative arc in a traditional way. That said, the love/annoyance mother-daughter dynamic between Naomi and Abi came over very strongly. The depiction of Tony’s dementia and Lil’s journey from lover to carer was particularly affecting. The organised chaos of the play’s structure reminded us how memories do not come to us in a neat order and how this must be horribly exaggerated for someone experiencing a decline in brain functioning.

Hayley Carmichael as Lil and Wil Johnson as Tony. Image Johan Persson.

The play was billed as being about domestic violence and it was but we were mercifully spared any graphic depictions. Rather, the violent incidents were revealed through the inner pain of the characters - whether exposed in their internal monologues or in snatches of echoing testimonies.

The sound design by Max Pappenheim and music by Carmel Smickersgill subtly underpinned the ominous, unsettling feel of the drama, without overwhelming it.

Shed: Exploded View had a running time of an hour and forty minutes, without an interval. There were some laughs but it was not an evening of light or dark comedy. But despite the emotional pain it depicted, there was also a lot of poetry in the writing - it kept half an eye on the stars as it looked up through the roof of the shattered shed and we and the characters put the pieces back together.

Wil Johnson as Tony. Image Johan Persson.

The Bruntwood Prize is a joint venture between the Royal Exchange and Manchester-based property company Bruntwood. It has been running since 2005. The Bruntwood Prize is open to anyone aged over 16 who lives in the UK or Ireland.


Shed: Exploded View

By Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Directed by Atri Banerjee
Winner of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2019

9 February - 2 March 2024
The Theatre
Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH
0161 833 9833

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277428 - 2024-02-08 17:55:27


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