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Review: Shed: Exploded View at the Royal Exchange Theatre is ‘gripping and devastatingly powerful’

Bruntwood prize-winning Shed: Exploded View, hit the Royal Exchange Theatre last night - and it is one hell of an experience.
Shed:Exploded View

Shed: Exploded View is a thought-provoking and intense theatrical experience, delving into themes of domestic violence, societal structures, and the complexities of human relationships.

This is an absolutely wonderful play and one you should not miss.

It’s so unique!

Shed: Exploded View

Shed:Exploded View
Hayley Carmichael and Will Johnson

Directed by Atri Banerjee, the play unfolds with an intensity that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Front to back, inside out and back to front, Eclair-Powell’s play delves deep into the complexities of violence and its pervasive influence on language and society.

The play opens with fireworks and a New Year’s Eve marriage proposal, setting the stage for a journey that spans three decades in the lives of three couples.

They weave and twist and turn and contort, warts and all depictions of the fragility of human relationships, the human condition and consequences of trauma.

Eclair-Powell’s incredible narrative

However, Eclair-Powell’s narrative structure defies convention, with scenes presented in a non-linear fashion, allowing for a fragmented yet (somehow) cohesive exploration of the characters’ interwoven stories.

This unconventional approach keeps the audience guessing, as they piece together the puzzle of relationships, motivations, and consequences.

The ensemble cast, featuring standout performances from Hayley Carmichael, Norah Lopez Holden, Jason Hughes, Wil Johnson, Lizzy Watts, and Michael Workéyè, brings the characters to life with raw emotion and authenticity.

Raw might be underselling it, some of the scenes are brutal.

But they seem so normal, so part of our lives, it makes for a hard watch.

Beautiful monologues

Shed:Exploded View
Powerhouse performances from Hayley Carmichael (L) and Lizzy Watts (R)

Some of the monologues are just breathtaking – particularly Tony’s (Wil Johnson) as he struggles with memory loss, with onset Alzheimers/Dementia taking a huge toll on the character and his relationship with Lil (Hayley Carmichael).

Another huge moment is towards the end, with Naomi (Lizzy Watts) lambasting the effects of domestic abuse. The audience is shocked to its core by the power of the delivery, you could hear a pin drop.

At its core, Shed: Exploded View is a searing examination of the cyclical nature of violence and the ways in which it permeates language and societal norms.

The complicity of silence

Through a series of short, powerful scenes, the play confronts the audience with uncomfortable truths about the prevalence of domestic abuse and the complicity of silence.

Each scene is a snapshot of moments both tender and tumultuous, revealing the complexity of human emotions and the enduring impact of trauma.

The play’s title, borrowed from Parker’s artwork, serves as a metaphor for the explosive nature of the human experience, where love and violence intertwine in unexpected ways. Eclair-Powell’s writing is sharp and incisive, unafraid to tackle difficult subject matter with honesty and nuance.

From moments of quiet reflection to explosive confrontations, the playwright masterfully navigates the emotional landscape of her characters, drawing the audience into their world with unflinching realism.

The strength of “Shed: Exploded View” lies not only in its compelling narrative but also in its innovative approach to storytelling.

The play’s stage directions suggest that scenes can be rearranged at the director’s discretion, offering a sense of fluidity and unpredictability that mirrors the chaos of life itself. (someone with a script may have to check this, if true, what an incredible feat)

Talented creative team

Shed: Exploded View is supported by a talented creative team. Naomi Dawson’s set design captures the essence of Parker’s artwork, creating a visually striking backdrop for the action to unfold.

The three ringed stage, with characters rotating at different speeds, and the screen depicting what year it was, and traumatic events, added to the tension and brooding sense of foreboding that permeated the play.

The characters chalk random phrases, throw away things that can be so hurtful onto the stage. By the end they are all covered with these phrases.

Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design adds depth and atmosphere, while Carmel Smickersgill’s jagged and atmospheric score enhances the emotional resonance of the play.

A challenge from the playwright?

The playwright’s challenge to the audience is laid bare – look at yourselves, this is what we are.

They are challenging audiences to confront uncomfortable truths about violence, love, and the human condition.

And god, when the lights went up, I was certainly left with that unsure, feeling.

This is well worth your time.

You can watch the trailer here

Shed: Exploded View tickets

Shed: Exploded Viewis on at the Royal Exchange Theatre from 9 the Feb – Sat 2nd Mar 2024

You can get your tickets by clicking here

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