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Shield, Ovalhouse Theatre

Amaara Raheem

Pros: Engrossing, poetic commentaries on stories that span continents. Lovely music to accompany the narrative.
Cons: Incomprehensible dancing at points that felt disjointed from the rest of the piece.
Our Verdict: Good production value that successfully creates an intimate feel and absorbs the audience in the tales that are told.
Courtesy of Ovalhouse
Set in the Ovalhouse Theatre, Shield by Amaara Raheem encompasses the mediums of movie, music, movement and monologue to portray three stories. One is an historical account of the transportation at sea of an Aboriginal bark shield now on display at the British Museum. The second is a personal memoir concerning National Sorry Day in Australia. Finally, the third story portrays a psychological experiment concerning that too all famous pursuit of love.The stories were interwoven, each stopping to take a break and letting another proceed, although the psychological experiment was actually just one short act. Nevertheless, I felt that elements of it were mingled into the other story lines throughout the play too.
Raheem’s own monologues are splendidly written as well as performed. She successfully describes the experiences of an unnamed Sri Lankan immigrant to Australia through a film snippet of the character’s motherland. The story is brought to life with humorous descriptions of her character’s mother and tales of her life growing up in Australia and subsequently moving to London. Her stage presence is truly engaging, telling a racially awkward story of mixed identities with dark, dry and stony-faced humour. It certainly had the audience in fits of laughter.
The love experiment interested me greatly as I’m sure it would any singleton. Raheem describes psychologist Robert Epstein’s love experiment aboard a plane with a Venezuelan lady. He told the Venezuelan lady that he could make her fall in love with him with a few simple manoeuvres. Lo and behold, it had apparently worked- I’m sure a potential treasure chest for up-and-coming pickup artists.The story was then concluded with some wavy physical movement indicating the closeness created by the tale. While this movement/contemporary dance was successful for this particular story, the dances peppered throughout the rest of the performance, I’m afraid to say, failed to engross me. Maybe that’s because I am not the biggest connoisseur of modern dance. There may have been dance enthusiasts within the audience that were thrilled by the spectacle unfolding before them, but I personally failed to see what it was all trying to express.
This type of movement was mainly prevalent within the Aboriginal bark shield story. There was a short monologue by Hamish MacPherson that transports the audience to his voyage of the seas with the infamous shield. But then there were a lot of gestures and movement about the stage by MacPherson and Seke Chimutengwende which at points made me feel like I was at a mime show, not much understanding the story being told. Maybe there was a grander symbolism, a deeper meaning behind it that just needed to be expressed more discernibly for those slightly dense in the art of dance, such as myself. However, it was great that the story of the bark shield was bought to life by the talented duo. They embraced the spirit of men at sea with so much ease, that I actually felt slightly seasick.
The film snippets created by Tobias Sturmer were cleverly produced and well placed, leading me to wonder if there should have been more. Sturmer’s music is even better still. You wouldn’t even notice that there was a man sitting on the side blending the sounds of the variety of instruments. The notes flowed naturally throughout. So naturally that it was almost as if it was pre-recorded, which I can assure you it was not. Haunting when it needed to be, the music built up tension when required and blended into the background when the scenes being played out needed our full attention. Definitely cleverly composed and strategically positioned through a combination of Sturmer’s musical talents and Raheem’s directing abilities.
In all, the performers made a great team. Although I may not have understood much of the reason behind the dance, I could see that they all flowed well together and that this was a team that supported and complemented each other encouragingly throughout. Raheem successfully directs this performance to make her audience think, to feel and to envelop them into the intimate bubble of love, history and identity she envisions.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Shield runs at Ovalhouse Theatre until 29th June 2013.
Box Office:020 7582 7680 or book online at http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/shield

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