Review: The Shadow Box (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: Michael Cristofer
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Jackson Blair-West, Jeanette Cronin, Anthony Gooley, Mark Lee, Tim McGarry, Fiona Press, Ella Prince, Kate Raison, Simon Thomson
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Three terminal patients in a hospital are waiting for the inevitable, but in the meantime, they try to experience life in an ambiguous space of transience, acutely conscious of their imminent fate. Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box is a meditation on death, which in its distillation of life’s essence, leaves us with a play that talks a lot about love and hope.

We think about existence as being conditional on the future, letting what we do today rely on our imagination of what is to come tomorrow. When tomorrow becomes increasingly uncertain, how we experience the now transforms into something that is thoroughly disquieting. Rattled and agonised, the characters in The Shadow Box, ill and otherwise, negotiate a strange state of being that feels like a constant struggle of trying to say goodbye.

Kim Hardwick’s direction honours the depth of Cristofer’s writing with an elegant and quiet approach. Its starkness is designed in order that thoughts and emotions may erupt with immediacy, but results are mixed. Not all of its scenes are able to engage meaningfully. Even though the show works hard to demonstrate the melancholic sentimentality that each personality endures, it can often feel too distant in its coolness. Considering the weight of its themes, the production is surprisingly, more cerebral than it is emotional, leaving us craving for an experience perhaps slightly more conventionally dramatic in style.

The actors are individually robust with what they bring to their respective roles, each one shiny with conviction and professional polish. Kate Raison steals our hearts, playing up her role Beverly’s dogged optimism and blistering self-deprecation, and Jeanette Cronin’s final moments of sorrow are as devastating as they are satisfying. Performances are well-rehearsed, but chemistry is not always present, in a production that does not necessarily wish to represent any unified or rigid philosophical positions.

To love is not to possess or to shackle, but for anyone to be able to love and let go, is harder said than done. A fundamental expression of love is to be present for the other, and in The Shadow Box, we observe the ultimate in selflessness that is required for loving the dying. Sitting with the ill gives the assurance of a life valued and valid, but helping them cross over is an act of great benevolence that the ones left behind will often find themselves unequipped to administer.