Pros: All the effects created on stage are cleverly choreographed, enhancing the boldness and brutal honesty of the stories being told.
Cons: Some of the narrative is lost because of the accelerated pace of delivery and the too loud backing track. The audience participation elements could have been more tactfully executed.
Shame is deeply personal performance which sees John Berkavitch reenacting intimate, embarrassing and shameful moments from his past, using spoken word, movement, choreography, animation and music.
Shadowed by three break dancers/mimes/puppeteers/stuntmen dressed all in beige, John brings to life the stories of the worst things he has ever done. As he narrates, the “shadows” use their bodies, and a couple of umbrellas to create scenery, objects and symbolic tableaus to help illustrate the stories. Combining their limbs together, they transform into an armchair, the back seat of a car, a state of the art coffee machine, a bar, a bus shelter, a girls bike. Layered on top of this are backing tracks, lighting effects, animation and projections to further enhance John’s narration.
What first appears as a blank canvas with #SHAMEjb projected on the wall, becomes a multidimensional land and soundscape, constantly surprising the audience with what it creates. It’s reminiscent of the stage production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, with its inventive use of visual effects projected on every surface of the space to give a 360-degree view of John’s world. From the torrential rain, to the height chart, to the Lego blocks to the Scalextric (complete with moving cars), everything is well crafted, seamlessly executed. The tech team never misses a beat, and ultimately, it’s just really cool.
Capturing the audience’s imagination in this way helps with processing the more delicate subject matters in the piece including drug overdoses, cheating, humiliation, regrets, and abandonment. The impact is still there, but it is handled in an audience-friendly way. This virtual reality is balanced perfectly with the human bodies interacting with the projections, and with the very human story being told. John is talking about real people, and real situations, which everyone can relate to. This was proven by the unanimous response when John asked if there was anyone in the audience who was not ashamed of something they had done.
At the end of the show, John asked for a volunteer from the audience to come up to the stage and confess to the worst thing they ever did. It wasn’t the most inviting invitation, especially when he joked that the doors were locked and no one was allowed to leave until someone spoke. Providing such a platform for people to share is a nice idea, however this could have been approached with more sensitivity. John failed to create a safe space for people to confess their truth. Instead it came across as threatening, which is why no one volunteered.
The worst things you’ve ever done are not usually a source of humour. Yet surprisingly there is comedy found throughout John’s candid delivery. His naivety and innocence, and the moments where he is acting tougher or cooler than he really is, resonate with the audience. On top of this, John’s choice of words and metaphors to illustrate these situations, are simple, yet hilarious.
Combining so many different theatrical elements together in a short performance can potentially come across as unfocussed, or confused. However, Shame has been devised and created with sharpness and a bold vision in mind, creating a polished and unique storytelling experience for the audience.
Written and devised by: John Berkavitch
Choreographer: Marso Riviere
Music: Jamie Woon and Royce Wood Junior
Movement Direction: Yael Shavit, Leo Kay, Lemn Sissay, Jonzi D and Katie Pearson.
Illustrations: Leigh “Mono” Drummond
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/bac/shows/shame
Booking Until: 19th March 2014.
(Shame goes on tour after its BAC dates – more information here).