“You’re not prepared to live life without mystery”
This production of David Mamet’s The Shawl is a little bit of a curiosity which has popped up at the Young Vic’s Clare studio for a brief 10 day run. Directed by the 2012 Genesis Future Director’s Award winner Ben Kidd, it is only a short play – coming in at just under an hour – but one which is slinkily persuasive in its portrayal of a conman who may or may not have psychic powers and it is given a rather interesting production here, full of great ideas.
The first – which is sadly under-developed – is that the audience are all spirits watching the events of the play. Small video screens are mounted on the walls and occasionally show cctv footage of the characters outside but when they move into the main room, they are alone – the chairs on which we sit are all shown to be empty. It is a wonderfully striking image but one which passed by very quickly and was never really touched on, indeed the screens were used rather sparingly throughout which felt like an opportunity that could have been somehow pushed further.
But having the seats spread out haphazardly around the room in Merle Hensel’s design is a highly effective technique, allowing for Kidd to weave his actors in and out of the audience, pulling us into the heart of the big con as rich, bereaved Miss A comes to clairvoyant-on-the-make John to decide whether to contest her mother’s will. Nick Fletcher’s John is most compelling as he breezes through their initial meeting and utterly gaining her trust, something which is then debunked by the following scene in which he reveals to his younger lover and would-be collaborator Charles exactly how he suckered her.
But Mamet has more up his sleeve, as the séance that follows – Fletcher terrifyingly convincing as being possessed – tips over from trickery into something more genuine, but exactly at what point we are left guessing. Denise Gough’s grief-stricken woman is superb as someone desperate for answers and even as she remains sceptical, is evermore drawn to the possibility that something real could be happening. Indeed the potential psychological relief that comes from just believing – even if it is false – becomes powerfully real in Gough’s hands.
Sam Crane – shorn of hair and looking all the better for it (shades of Gyllenhaal definitely apparent) – is a rapacious presence as the one keen to fleece Miss A for all she is worth but it is a shame that Mamet doesn’t devote a little more time to the relationship between the two men as Crane and Fletcher connect excellently here with the barest of material. Natasha Chivers’ amoebic mass of lightbulbs creates a sinuous flow of evocative lighting and the whole production adds up into something hauntingly satisfying.