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Review of The Shepherd’s Chameleon

The ShepherdIonesco! Ionesco! Are you there? Ionesco!

It’s happened to all of us. You’re trying to finish a piece of work: a script or spreadsheet, manifesto or manuscript. But your boss/colleague/significant other is peering over your shoulder, asking whether the work is finished. When can they see it? Have you thought about ‘x’, ‘y’ or ‘z’? Wouldn’t you be better doing it another way?

While pressure to perform can be motivating, it can also be irritating, claustrophobic, stifling, and counterproductive. Rather than allowing ideas to germinate naturally, shoots are forced from the ground, and growth and development is stinted.

It’s a bugbear for many, though it seems that the artiste, wishing to express his or her ideas creatively, feels the pressure to conform most acutely. Through The Shepherd’s Chameleon, Romanian playwright Ionesco expresses his frustration: he clearly felt that his critics and management were forever trying to prescribe how his work should be created and performed.

The play centres on Ionesco’s visit from three critics, Bartholomew I, II and III. In a manner reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the three Bartholomews advise Ionesco on the writing of a new script. However, their advice quickly morphs into imposition, regulation, and the destruction of Ionesco’s creativity.

The Shepherd’s Chameleon is the launch-pad for Peckham’s Utopia Theatre group, directed by Moji Kareem. Being an absurdist farce, the storyline is far from straightforward. However, Kareem’s surreal yet captivating combination of words, movement, sound, and props allow Ionesco’s point to emerge.

The cast of four were excellent: of particular note are Lucie Chester and Olivia Nicholson, playing Bartholomew I and II. Chester is a commanding actress with strength and poise, and Nicholson has a real ability to express character through movement and expression.

Speaking to me after the performance, artistic director Moji said she hoped to bring out multiple layers of ideas and symbolism through the actors’ versatility: including the concept that life doesn’t always require analysis – sometimes it’s better to inspect, than dissect:

“You can come away from the most mundane things and still find some excitement and exhilaration out of it. Even simple actions like ripping pages out of a book can be beautiful,” Moji explained, referring to the first scene in the play, where two of Ianesco’s critics robotically tear pages from novels as they read.

“A lot of people, when they hear ‘theatre of the absurd’, they say, ‘I don’t want to go and see it’,” she continued. However, she feels that theatregoers will be pleasantly surprised with this “madcap world of absurdist comedy”, as long as they “come into it with an open mind”.  So put down that pie chart, save the spreadsheet for another day, and enter the world of the surreal.

Review by Emma Slater

The Shepherd’s Chameleon plays at CLF Art Café, The Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane London SE15 4ST until Saturday 25th May.

Thursday 16th May 2013


  • Emma Slater

    Emma is an avid theatre-goer and amateur performer who enjoys reviewing productions of all genres. She currently works for ITV and previous positions include journalist for the BBC, and Channel 4. Her favourite musical is probably Beauty and the Beast...perhaps because she's always had a secret hankering to play Belle!

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