The Shroud begins with a heavily symbolic sequence: a rectangle of light becomes sacred space – a coffin, a bed. Siddhartha Bose approaches his co-performer and co-deviser Avaes Mohammad and performs a ritualistic, almost massage-like motion, suggestive of sculpture, creation and healing. In these few short moments central themes of the play are powerfully introduced, and go on to be explored with a wonderful clarity, thanks in turn to the writer (also Bose), performers, and director Russell Bender, along with a clearly talented creative team.
Symbolism is woven into the fabric of this production, and its somewhat grandiloquent claims that it is a show about “loss, time and the things that connect us”, certainly proves true, at least in part. This “two-man miniature” is extremely efficient at tackling these enormous themes and I would even throw in a few of my own: those of creation and destruction, life and death, and the rhythms that surround these concepts. The two-man, dialectic nature of the performance allows for a very simple and effective exploration of these oppositions and dualities of nature and the human mind.
However, what makes The Shroud so accessible is the directness and specificity which cuts through the symbolism and profundity. The bulk of the show is a dialogue between the two performers, consisting of what appears to be real-life anecdotes. These anecdotes are delivered directly to the audience, and are remarkably alive with detail and personality. They don’t shy away from multiple drug and sexual references, yet also seem to avoid gratuitousness.
An important structuring device of the piece is dangling from the ceiling. What appeared to be blank pieces of paper turn out to be letters, from a father to an absent son. The authentic detail in the letters is belied by what seems an almost inhuman level of kindness and support from the evidently loving father. Whether based in reality or entirely fictional, the letters are a source of much of the warmth and gentle humour of the piece. The device of hanging them from the ceiling is indicative of the rare combination of beauty, simplicity and functionality to be found throughout the production. There are many touches deserving of mention. The music of Susheela Raman acknowledges and supports the cultural borrowings and influences of the piece without overwhelming it. Similarly the understated and amorphous video, designed by Maria Tzika, projected on a craggy moon-like feature of the back wall, offers moments of wonder and surprise without being a distraction.
Yet, The Shroud is by no means perfect. Though performed with style and authority the performers often stray into something too obviously identifiable as ‘acting’, which isn’t stylised enough to be a creative choice. There are times in the more elevated speeches which ostentatiously emphasise meanings which should be left to us to work out. Similarly the design, an admittedly extremely beautiful and sparse set, contains what seem to be unnecessary elements, such as a mass of chairs at the back of the stage, a few of which are sat on, others apparently serving only as an excuse for stage business. But these small criticisms pale in comparison to what is largely a powerful, accomplished and thought-provoking piece.
The Shroud played Rich Mix, and goes on to play Norfolk & Norwich Festival on 17 May. For more information see the Rich Mix website.