Review: Me and My Shadow

by Jane

The Space Theatre is filled with the din of excited children. The Saturday morning outside is showing Adelaide’s first strains of winter: dreary, making the world in great need of a blanket and a cup of tea. But inside, children yell, bang their seats, pose for a photograph on their mother’s iphone, try and dissect what they can see on the stage: look, I can see a shadow! They hold none of the trepidation of the blustery Saturday morning.

In front of me, a mother shows her children how you would make your hands into a shadow for a dog: the thumb an upright ear, the index finger hooked to make an eye, the middle and ring fingers the snout, the little finger moving up and down for the mouth: yap yap yap.

The house-lights dim and turn off. There are a few startled cries from the very young; a few excited yelps from the older kids who know what’s happening: it’s about to begin.

The Girl (Emma Beech) sits in a pool of light, concentrating absolutely on her scissors and butcher’s paper. Snip here, cut there, off goes the off-cuts into a paper bag. Open up the sheet and reveal the line of paper girls.

It’s bedtime, but she and her paper dolls are not quite ready for bed. How could you ever be ready for bed when there is a world of things to discover, create, and play with? Out comes the torch, shining a spot light around the space; then it is a car, and then a rocket ship.

The pool of light moves so it’s shining on the Girl, and she starts to make shadows with her hands. She makes a dog, and the children in front of me turn to their mother excitedly – they just learnt how to do that!

The Girl’s body is then encased in light, behind her a shadow: a new play thing. With paper bags and a shadow for a friend, what more could a girl need?

As she plays with her shadow, something magical happens and soon it is not her shadow at all, but the shadow of a Boy (Hew Parham). The Girl and the Boy shadow play with each other; he teasing her, her shadow holding his shadow hand. Then, from behind the paper pops a truly formed Boy.

As the title would, of course, suggest, Me and My Shadow is a delightful play on shadows and light, as the Girl and Boy delight in the play and the manipulation of lights and shadows. A shadow belonging to someone on stage plays with a shadow belonging to no-one, a bit of pressure on the shadow of a bag, and the real bag begins to crumple, human shadows grow and shrink in a game of leap-frog. Red lights in a paper bag escape, flying behind the background of paper sheets, before being plucked out one by one. They’re thrown at the wall, and the wall glows red.

When the show strays too far from play with light and shadow into a non-magical relationship and tiff between the Girl and Boy, the young audience is lost slightly. It’s the magic which holds these children captivated, and the show returns to this before too long.

Me and My Shadow plays with the knowledge of the way the children understand the world: the magic in the work comes from the knowledge that shadows aren’t physical, that pushing on a shadow and pushing on an object aren’t the same thing; but the audience is still young enough to be looking at the world with a sense of abject wonder. For them, it’s not fake stage magic, but instead real magic happening in front of their eyes. And the magic was true for some of the older people in the audience, too: even the women sitting besides me wondered out-loud how things were occurring, and noted they would have to ask their children: to them, a sheet of paper seemed to magically repair itself, the Boy and the Girl throwing lights to each other was near unbelievable.

In some ways, it was hard for me to let go of my theatre critic hat or my scientist brain: the parts of me which are incredibly interested in the way things work, in figuring out each step of the process, in watching the lighting rig, of looking for the seams. The more I became aware that I was watching for the seams, trying to figure out the tricks, completely understanding the simple magic, the more I wished I didn’t. I tried to concentrate on the shadow of a giant leaping over the shadow of a regular person as an act of magic, and not as an act of people being different distances from the light. My mind is always looking for the “how”, but the magic of Me and My Shadow was that I didn’t want to: I wanted to be more present in the magic than I could.

Maybe I lost the magic of being friends with my shadow a long time ago; this show made me wish I could have that back.

Patch Theatre Company presents Me and My Shadow, collaboratively created by Zöe Barry, Dave Brown, Geoff Cobham, Roz Hervey, Nathan O’Keefe, Astrid Pill and Bob Weatherly. Composition by Zöe Barry, lighting and set design by Geoff Cobham and Dave Brown, direction by Roz Hervey, Dave Brown and Geoff Cobham, production management and technical construction by Bob Weatherly. With Emma Beech and Hew Parham. At the Space Theatre. Season closed.

Touring nationally in 2012 to: Port Hedland, Mandurah, Geraldton, Esperance (WA); South Morang, Ballarat, Dandenong, Shepparton (Vic); Hobart (Tas); Wagga Wagga, Nowra, Gosford, Bathurst, Sydney (NSW); Gold Coast, Maryborough, Gladstone, Ayr, and Townsville (Qld). More information here.