Shed : Exploded View

With inspiration taken from artist Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’, Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s play is about domestic violence and the way violence seeps through language itself. It questions society’s repetition across generations– and the responsibilities one has to choose to act or ignore. It’s an ode to tearing the fabric of time in a bid to start again and change the world for future generations of women.

Upon entering Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, the space exhibits ‘I am, challenging the narratives of domestic abuse’ by Allie Crewe. The work depicts victims turned victors of domestic abuse and hangs prolifically as a backdrop to the theatrical space at the epicentre of the historic venue. This sets the tone for the piece to come whilst posters sensitively display links to aftercare resources for anyone affected by the themes of the performance, as well as reflection and response spaces, also.

The play itself is comprised of six characters whose intergenerational stories are depicted across a non-linear, thirty-year timeframe. Naomi (Lizzy Watts) and Frank (Jason Hughes) first encounter Lil (Hayley Carmichael) and Tony (Wil Johnson) on their honeymoon in 1994, the date handily displayed upon two screens which are book-ended above a neatly conceived triple-revolving stage. In amongst the fragmented scenes, we are introduced to Abi (Norah Lopez Holden) and Mark (Michael Workéyè) whose relationships to the former are slowly introduced as the narrative builds. 

Design (by Naomi Dawson) is effortless in its ability to work functionally to effectively evoke uneasy notions. The shell of a dismantled shed is illuminated by a spherical lamp as it hangs, somewhat ghostlike, over the centre of the stage which ripples into three, smoothly revolving sections; each of these varying in pace and direction. Scene titles are etched with chalk onto the stage, assisting in portraying the accumulative overbearing weight of the past. The muted tone of the design gives room for the talented cast to embody their roles with little distraction, only amplified by striking Light Design from Bethany Gupwell; weaving with immersivity throughout the performance space. 

Sound Designer, Max Pappenheim, adds to this with a pulsing soundtrack that ramps up the tension, smartly sound-biting Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby, One More Time’ in such a way that side-steps cliché and intensifies the scenes as they unfurl.

Where the male counterparts initially appear charming and equitable, we are quickly transported to a time and a place where quite the opposite is true. Due to the fragmented nature of the play, character development suffers slightly and we find that shards of narrative evolution are misplaced along the way. This being said, the ensemble cast triumphantly deliver intensely evocative performances which are steadfast in their ability to leave the audience abundant with questions of their own morality.

Johnson subtly but effectively shows the transformation of Tony’s aging and deterioration culminating into a heart breaking scene with Carmichael, who throughout commands the stage with her presence as the survivor. The relationship between Lopez Holden and Watts grips the audience throughout and leaves us questioning how we would deal with these issues should it happen in our own lives. Lopez Holden is a particular standout for their emotional maturing of Abi and their ability to command our attention, particularly during a scene of her ageing and repeating the word, “mum”.

Shed: Exploded View is a powerful and proficient production which tackles the spectrum of abuse in a respectful, yet dynamic way.

This show was reviewed on the 19th February 2024 and runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until the 2nd March 2024.  Tickets available here: Shed: Exploded View - Royal Exchange Theatre

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

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