Event review: Shadow Play at Theatre Utopia, Saturday 19th August

By - Tuesday 5th September, 2017

A show that delighted children and adults alike

Photo by Drew Colby, used with permission.

A bare stage with a small light projecting onto a large blank screen. The audience of young children and their parents in Theatre Utopia sits in anticipation as a lanky young man in a trilby crosses the stage, smiles and the lights go down. This time, as he crosses in front of the light, his shadow appears behind him. Cue a lovely pantomime-like sequence in which we see his shadow but he doesn’t: “it’s behind you!” squeaks an excited little voice from the audience. And then the magic begins.

Drew Colby, hand shadowgrapher, uses his hands, fingers, his own profile, his arms, a kazoo and some string to create a host of creatures from crabs to rabbits and elephants, other people and monsters. Sometimes they appear in their own world, and sometimes his profile interacts with them. Should you be able to tear your eyes away from the screen, you will see that Mr Colby is as interesting to watch in the act of creating his on-screen world as are his shadow creatures. He commits totally to the vignettes he creates, using only a few words and lots of expressive sounds. He also sings his own soundtracks – the adults in the audience appreciated the musical nods to the Lone Ranger theme as he rode his shadow horse and even at one point referenced ET!

Photo by Drew Colby, used with permission.

This show never condescends because it’s ‘just for kids’. Here is a performer at the top of his game, who has a fertile imagination and meticulously crafted technique. He seems to have more than two hands as he creates birds which morph into swans which become something entirely new. He uses cartoon gags, like big animals eating little ones, then the little ones escaping via a colourful regurgitation – which the children love. He never stays in one story context for long, switching – as children so often do when they play – from one story to the next with no need for a logical link.

The result is free-form fantasy, and utterly enchanting. A highlight for me was Mr Colby’s use of a torch held in his mouth to create a glowing ball which was bounced by a shadow bear. If I had one tiny gripe, I would say that the forty-five minute show could have been reduced by ten minutes. There was repetition of a couple of gag sequences, which while great the first time, possibly didn’t need repeating. However, the hula hoop at the end (you have to see it!) was a fittingly anarchic finish.

It was an utter joy to indulge my inner four-year-old for forty-five minutes on a Saturday afternoon. The four year olds clearly thought it was pretty good too.

Pamela Hall

Pamela Hall

Pamela is an actress/singer/vocal coach who has lived in Croydon for 15 years. Now she’s working closer to home, she has been able to enter into local life and wants to explore what Croydon’s cultural scene has to offer. Pamela is a Lay Clerk at Croydon Minster and on its Parish Council. She is committed to raising the profile of this beautiful and historic church as a jewel at the centre of Croydon life.

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