Light and shade in Unity’s thought-provoking watch

British actor Michael Gambon once described his work in the theatre as “shouting in the evenings”.

His observation was tongue-in-cheek. There is a vast difference between shouting on stage and projection.

James Packman, as Brian in Unity Theatre’s production of The Shadow Box, led the way in showing the importance of projection, even in an intimate theatre setting.

Brian is one of three terminally ill patients, each of whom lives in a cottage on the grounds of a large hospital in the US. Set over 24 hours, the play centres on the three people, their families and their relationships.

Peter Ray plays Joe, a hearty character whose wife is in denial about his condition.

Julie McPhail plays wheelchair-bound Felicity, who slips between feisty lucidity and dementia, and is cared for by her repressed daughter Agnes, played by Zella Toia-Preston.

English-accented Arran Dunn is the calm interviewer who talks with the three patients as part of a new programme at the hospital.

Like McPhail, and Iscah Montgomerie who plays Brian’s drunken ex, Packman projects not just his voice, but his character.

These actors find shifts of emotional colour in their characters’ make-up and, in doing so, connect with the audience.

Last seen as the manic serial killer in Popcorn, Liam Duncan plays Brian’s gay partner Mark. Although Mark is sullen, and often waspish towards Beverly, Duncan can easily afford to use his skill to nuance his character.

Dressed in dull clothes and slightly hunched from years of caring for her mother, Toia-Preston’s flat tone works well for her character and there are opportunities in her longer speeches to give her character more depth.

Melissa Andrew, as Joe’s wife Maggie, also looks the part as her chatter helps keep her from talking about the truth of Joe’s condition.

As the patients’ relationships with visitors and supporters play out, the focus switches from one “cottage” to another. So the overall pace is good and the show clocks in at two hours in length.

Graeme Nicoll’s stage design is compact but cleverly compartmentalised, while Colin Olsen’s lighting is an essential component of the stage craft.

But actors need to find the light. One maxim of theatre is if the audience cannot see the actors clearly, they cannot hear them clearly.

The Shadow Box is a challenging play for any cast. For audiences it is a thought-provoking, uplifting watch, and definitely worth a look.

British actor Michael Gambon once described his work in the theatre as “shouting in the evenings”.

His observation was tongue-in-cheek. There is a vast difference between shouting on stage and projection.

James Packman, as Brian in Unity Theatre’s production of The Shadow Box, led the way in showing the importance of projection, even in an intimate theatre setting.

Brian is one of three terminally ill patients, each of whom lives in a cottage on the grounds of a large hospital in the US. Set over 24 hours, the play centres on the three people, their families and their relationships.

Peter Ray plays Joe, a hearty character whose wife is in denial about his condition.

Julie McPhail plays wheelchair-bound Felicity, who slips between feisty lucidity and dementia, and is cared for by her repressed daughter Agnes, played by Zella Toia-Preston.

English-accented Arran Dunn is the calm interviewer who talks with the three patients as part of a new programme at the hospital.

Like McPhail, and Iscah Montgomerie who plays Brian’s drunken ex, Packman projects not just his voice, but his character.

These actors find shifts of emotional colour in their characters’ make-up and, in doing so, connect with the audience.

Last seen as the manic serial killer in Popcorn, Liam Duncan plays Brian’s gay partner Mark. Although Mark is sullen, and often waspish towards Beverly, Duncan can easily afford to use his skill to nuance his character.

Dressed in dull clothes and slightly hunched from years of caring for her mother, Toia-Preston’s flat tone works well for her character and there are opportunities in her longer speeches to give her character more depth.

Melissa Andrew, as Joe’s wife Maggie, also looks the part as her chatter helps keep her from talking about the truth of Joe’s condition.

As the patients’ relationships with visitors and supporters play out, the focus switches from one “cottage” to another. So the overall pace is good and the show clocks in at two hours in length.

Graeme Nicoll’s stage design is compact but cleverly compartmentalised, while Colin Olsen’s lighting is an essential component of the stage craft.

But actors need to find the light. One maxim of theatre is if the audience cannot see the actors clearly, they cannot hear them clearly.

The Shadow Box is a challenging play for any cast. For audiences it is a thought-provoking, uplifting watch, and definitely worth a look.

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