This timely production focusing on Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech raises a lot of questions about racism but leaves the audience with no real resolution.
What does racism really mean? How important is our country of birth in forming our identity? Is it possible that there is more than one way to be considered racist? These are just a few questions that swirl around the mind when watching this deeply engrossing production focused around Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.
Tackling the themes of racism and identity, Chris Hannan’s play examines how one person’s words affected a generation in a powerful way. It is clear that it has been sensitively and thoughtfully written, but it never flinches away from how bad things got after Powell delivered his speech.
Set on a strikingly bleak stage, Roxana Silbert’s production allows the script to take centre stage – highlighting the power, passion and anger from all sides to seep through, building up to one final confrontation between Rose and Enoch. The production gradually tightens its grip, drawing you further into the character’s lives and attitudes.
Divided into two very different perspectives, What Shadows also effectively conveys both sides of the argument of identity and the definition of racism with perfect balance and without judgement. One the one hand you have the indignant Rose who believes that her childhood was ruined because of Enoch’s speech, while Enoch believed that he was doing his duty to protect his country.
But the problem is by trying to fit in so many different characters and their own perspectives of racism, the play can at times lose its way and increasingly sure in which direction it is going to go – particularly at the end which offers no proper conclusion and feels abrupt to an audience who have been thoroughly engaged throughout.
On the other hand, this is a production that has some wonderful performances to enjoy. Ian McDiarmid as Enoch Powell is charismatic and graceful, so much so that the audiences can’t help but be drawn to his character as much as you are repelled by what he is saying.
Meanwhile, Amelia Donkor as the indignant and self-righteous Rose delivers many different layers to her performance from her passionate defence of what she believes in to her horror of the part she played in the aftermath of Enoch’s speech and treatment of the white lady living in her area. Nicholas Le Prevost as the conflicted Clem Jones is also wonderful to watch as the realisation of what he has helped Enoch achieve by simply giving him pointers in getting his speech noticed.
It is a hard hitting production of a play that knows how to pack a punch and gets you questioning about your own thoughts and attitudes towards racism and identity, but just lacks in the final scene that sense of clarity that would bring it to a suitable conclusion.
What Shadows continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 28th October. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/what-shadows/