Staging a play in which one or more characters is a shadow demands courage and cleverness. Indie artists, Antoinette Tracey and September Barker, take this adventurous route. They present Shadow Piece-Alt. Shadow Love at the Melbourne Fringe Festival as a digital event, taking the audience to the suburbs, rather than bringing the suburbs to the stage.
It is a balmy night. The single-fronted Victorian terrace would be inconspicuous by its familiarity had it not been for the second-storey lights and shadows behind the shades. Its ubiquity fits the universal nature of perceptions, relationships, and identity that are intricately layered here.
A Woman and a Man are having a heated argument, their black solid forms gesticulating wildly against the window coverings. In time, they find even ground and make up and go to bed. Tracey and Barker, themselves playing these parts, imbue the action with a mystic, surreal quality, that blurs the boundary between wakefulness and reverie, impression and reality. Scenes, in which the Woman finds herself interacting with a shadow, or when the Man confronts his partner’s alter-ego in a dream, weave a discombobulating spell.
This slice of life, without a definable plot, is depicted in a circular style. Bookended by the narrative, the work nestles its genesis in the middle act where we see Tracey and Barker conceive the creative concept with a group of friends. The combination of image, movement, sound illustrates the role of atmospherics and light and angle in affecting how the characters see each other, and see themselves, and, indeed, how the audience might in turn see them. Interestingly, because this is a filmed production, the cameraman wields considerable influence on our perspectives.
The drama is well acted, and the chemistry between The Woman and Man is convincing, although its intensity appears to be uneven as the story progresses. The enigma and ambiguity of the piece also makes it feel somewhat half-digested, not helped enough by the choice of music.
Yet, Shadow Piece-Alt. Shadow Love is worth watching, if only to witness Tracey’s nearly-ethereal dance towards the end when her independent Woman explores her relationship with the shadow of Barker’s Piano Man, her relationship with her circumstances, not least with herself.