With its vivid cloths in primary colours, soft lighting and intimate atmosphere, stepping into the set of Shadows in Different Shades feels very much like walking into an art installation. As a nameless young artist (Rachel Oriowo) tells us, that’s exactly where we are: this is a living, breathing exhibition, tasked with connecting her to her roots.
Based on the life of director Moji Kareem, Shadows in Different Shades explores the intertwining stories of three generations of women; merging scenes of Ibadan, Nigeria with tales from London and Leeds. The script collects their individual anecdotes and brings them to life through music, movement and ritual, rejecting chronological accuracy in favour of a dream-like journey through memory. Haunting Yoruba songs, led by Musical Director Juwon Ogungbe, balance the sometimes difficult subject matter with artistic relief. The result is a beautiful and moving portrayal of what it means to be a woman – wherever and whenever you live.
Perhaps inevitably, marriage emerges as a pivotal shared experience. Though the women’s husbands are physically absent from the performance, their presence is inescapable, symbolised in one moment by a pale grey suit set against the brightly coloured stage. The play expertly deals with hidden domestic injustices, concealing a quiet rage beneath laugh-out-loud humour. The eldest of the women,‘The Grandmother’ (Mojisola Bamtefa) recounts her husband’s growing collection of wives through deadpan narration. She finally reveals ‘He’s in bed with number five’, to audible gasps from the audience. This is what the production does so well: having us invest in the trials and tribulations faced by the three women as though they were our own family.
The performances from all three actors are wholly believable. Rachel Oriowo stands out in particular, as the sharp and down-to-earth ‘Daughter’ who is trying to find her own path against a cultural backdrop she cannot always understand. The play is still a work in progress and at times it does show, with some lines delivered hesitantly, and some vague transitions between scenes. There is nevertheless something refreshingly real about the lack of polish in such intimate storytelling.
Shadows in Different Shades is a highly-memorable production which pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre and storytelling. Since Utopia Theatre – the company behind the play – are Sheffield-based, you can expect plenty more exciting performances from them in the future.