The poster for the new London production of The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute looks like a poster for Friends - "but Friends with edge," says the producer Kenny Wax, who has hired a young Hollywood cast to star in the play.
The play premiered at the Almeida in 2001, and the writer/ director LaBute, whose other film credits include In the Company of Men (1997), Your Friends and Neighbours (1998) and Nurse Betty (1999), also directed his latest play, The Mercy Seat, at the Almeida.
LaBute often reveals the darker side of human nature, exposing the cruel and vicious heart of the battle of the sexes. The Shape of Things is about an art student, Evelyn (played by Rachel Weisz in the original production and in the film), who transforms her nerdy, but quick-witted boyfriend, Adam into a hipper, more pretentious version of himself, much to the confusion of his two friends, Jenny and Philip. Along the way, the play takes swipes at friendship, relationships and art itself.
"It is depressing what human beings are capable of doing to each other," says James Murray, who is Philip in the new production. The young and sassy Sienna Guillory (who starred in The Principles of Lust and Love Actually) is Jenny, Philip's fiancée, while Alicia Witt appears as Evelyn, and Enzo Cilenti as Adam.
"I steered clear of LaBute's film," admits Murray. "It can be counter-productive, because then you start comparing and contrasting the characters."
The new production, directed by Julian Webber, casts Philip as a fairly overbearing young man with a big heart. "He cares passionately about his best friend, and when he recognises that Adam is in trouble, it concerns him as it would any best friend. Enzo, who plays Adam, goes through a major physical change. He loses 15 pounds in weight throughout the play. Such is the trickery of theatre," says Murray.
Prior to its West End opening, the play has toured in Plymouth and Brighton. "It's always interesting to tour through seaside theatres because you get a real mix of reactions. One or two people walked out in disgust; there is a fair amount of swearing. But the play's purpose is not to make an audience feel better. It is rather about getting a reaction and this play, if we do it properly, will certainly provoke people."
The production depends on a particularly intricate set design "We have this very beautiful azure-blue floor and back- drop, with two conveyor belts on the floor that the audience can't see. They bring furniture, props and actors in at different speeds," says Murray. "There are various white screens that suddenly reveal actors and props as quickly as they can hide them, and a scene change will happen and the set will become twice as big as it was before," he explains. "The audience's perspective of the play is constantly being changed and challenged via the set as much as it is by the dialogue."
'The Shape of Things', New Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2 (0870 060 6627), opens 17 May
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