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Tremendous success for The Shape Shifter's British debut


Review by Emma Whitelaw

IT IS indeed a humbling experience to bear witness to such brilliance as that which was both on and off stage at the Hampstead Theatre on Thursday night.

RL Nesvet's award-winning The Shape Shifter received its British premiere to a full house in a rehearsed reading presented by Cheeky Maggot Theatre Company.

Extremely well written, directed and performed, the event was a huge success, and a credit to all involved.

The Shape Shifter is both thought-provoking and timeless. Its themes are as relevant today as they were in the 19th Century.

Questions of social identity, individualism, gender and sexuality are greatly significant in all the events that unfold.

Anna Tollput gave a stunning performance as the young teacher, Alice Barbin. Having lived 18 years of her life as a woman, Barbin was diagnosed, by Dr Gilbert Chesnet, played by Alastair Danson, as a biological male.

The harrowing consequences of this revelation are highlighted when Barbin again meets Chesnet years later.

She has left the convent in which she worked, left the woman which she loved, became a 'man' and tells Chesnet she wants to set out to sea and become a sailor.

Chesnet warns Barbin that to do so would be most undesirable as she looks like a woman. Barbin then scoffs at Chesnet as, according to him, she can be neither man nor woman, to him she has no place in society.

The adorable Lucy Davenport was undeniably brilliant as Barbin's estranged lover, Agathe.

As a feminist in the making, the young Agathe is not bound by the sociological rules of gender and sexuality. Her love for Barbin is unconditional and unshaken by Chesnet's diagnosis.

Another noteworthy performance would be that of Eleanor Montgomery, as Abbess, the landlady of the convent where Barbin and Agathe met.

Montgomery was perfect for the role and conveyed Abbess' mother-like love for Barbin perfectly.

In fact, the entire cast were superb and the night was, in all respects, a fantastic success.

Having received such tremendous exposure, I sincerely hope that one day we may see a full production of The Shape Shifter in all its glory.

The Shape Shifter written by RL Nesvet, directed by Kelly Wilkinson. Dramaturg Pippa Ellis. Starring Anna Tollputt, Lucy Davenport, Eleanor Montgomery, Clara Perez, Lorna Bennett, Alastair Danson and Ashley Cook. Presented by Cheeky Maggot Theatre Company. For information visit www.cheekymaggot.allhere.com

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