Six troubled strangers are invited to a remote mansion on midsummer’s eve. Were The Shadowmaster to take a predictable route, somebody would die, a whodunnit would ensue, and a good time would be had by all. Instead, The Shadowmaster takes something of a Willie Wonka-esque approach, offering those unlucky in love a “second chance” through a vision of alternate realities regarding their life choices.
An adaptation of JM Barrie’s Dear Brutus, was directed and reconceived by the Kings Head’s artistic director Stephanie Sinclaire. The RZ has never read the original Barrie, and unfortunately The Shadowmaster has done little to inspire him to do so: despite clocking in at a mere 95 minutes including interval, each act feels overlong, and the writing is as pleased with itself as Keith Faulkner’s manipulative Lob (of the title). Lob jumps around, manipulating the evening’s events, and screams for attention, resembling Paul McGann as Doctor Who. Neil Henry comes off better as slight-of-hand master and butler Matey, though his character’s path in the second act as a corrupt city banker quickly loses steam.
Our five guests, each in an unhappy relationship, fare little better. One is a snooty Lady with impossibly high standards, another is a threesome of wife, husband, and husband’s mistress, and the last two are a bickering couple: a woman of unknown occupation and her husband, a fallen painter now turned to drink. It is this last role, Billy Geraghty, who saves the show’s second act when his character exudes joy and love for the child he was incapable of having.
To top it all off, Ms. Sinclaire makes questionable use of the stage she should know so well. Designer Georgia Lowe (who is uncredited on the Kings Head’s website) splits the stage between an ageing house and a garden, both wonderfully done given the constraints, but there are times when the blocking sends people seamlessly crossing territory (e.g. the reunion scene where everybody returns to reality and Lob’s interventions with the daughter) in ways that render it all a bit slapdash. Yes, the King’s Head is tiny and the budgets small, but a play like this would have benefited greatly from substituting projections for traditional scenery.
Ultimately, though, The Shadowmaster is better off lurking back to the darkness from which it came. For all of the first act’s posturing about danger lurking in the forest, most of the characters emerged unscathed and even the most potentially traumatic experience came through with a satisfying ending, rendering it all moot. At best The Shadowmaster is a light distraction, albeit one hanging under a lingering cloud of smug.
Where: King’s Head
When: Until 7 September, Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Sa/Su @ 15:30
How Much: £20 reserved, £15 unreserved
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. The play has two good roles but fails to come together into a satisfying whole.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ has to confess, he still misses Betwixt, the last show he saw at the King’s Head, which he found significantly better.