What Shadows is an examination of notorious Tory MP Enoch Powell (3 stars)

What Shadows

credit: Ellie Kurttz

Ian McDiarmid shines as a notorious figure from the political recent past

What Shadows focuses on Tory MP Enoch Powell (played with an unforgettable panache by Ian McDiarmid) in the months leading up to his 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech. A statement which expressed his paranoia about migration, it both destroyed his career ambitions and created a political storm that still echoes today on the fear-mongering right wing. Episodes from 1968 alternate with scenes set in 1992, as black academic Rose gears up to confront Powell over his racist remarks.

The contrasting time periods allow for an interesting exploration of the characters' background: for instance, Rose appears as a child in the Wolverhampton street Powell infamously mentioned in his speech, and Powell's arguments with a journalist friend which serve to highlight his inherent hubris and contradictions.

Unfortunately, these suggestive details rarely translate into fully fleshed characters, or more than superficial discussions of identity and belonging. The scenes involving Rose and her academic colleague, in particular, suffer from an unconvincing performance and lack of emotional power – especially when contrasted against McDiarmid's haunting performance. He easily shoulders the entire play, and the physical resemblance, down to the voice, between him and Powell is uncanny. He delivers two chilling, memorable monologues that are undoubtedly one of the finest moments of the production, while overshadowing the narrative through his vivid and powerful charisma.

The Lyceum, 7–23 Sept.

What Shadows

Ian McDiarmid stars as Enoch Powell in Birmingham Repertory Theatre's staging of Chris Hannan's drama about how a politically divided country moves forward in the wake of a crisis. Directed by Roxana Silbert.

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