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The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes

There’s at least one London-based ‘disabled-led’ theatre company (their choice of description) that I can think of that would hate The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, in its full and frank exchange of different ideas in which Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price discuss what they call disability activism, as well as their past and present experiences, and what they expect to happen in the future. They also introduce a phrase I’ve not come across before, perhaps because it’s commonplace in Australia, where Back to Back Theatre are based (impressively, they’re on a global tour with this show), but not in Blighty: “people with intellectual disabilities”.

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes - credit Kira Kynd.
The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes – credit Kira Kynd.

There’s disagreement, almost inevitably, on terminology. Scott, for instance, identifies as disabled, because as far as he’s concerned, he’s disabled. Everyone he knows understands what that means, and how dare anyone suggest he should be called something else, because he’s not something else: he’s disabled, and he has the right to be called exactly what he is. Sarah, however, isn’t quite so comfortable with the term being applied to herself, preferring ‘neurodiverse’ as a more inclusive descriptor.

Mind you, describing human beings as people before anything else could be similarly applied to other contexts, replacing, for instance ‘cancer sufferers’ with ‘people with cancer’, and likewise ‘people with dementia’ and, in this day and age ‘people with Covid’, and so on. Of course, choice of vocabulary doesn’t remove or treat such conditions, but it gives people a little dignity, which is, as the rather harrowing accounts of this trio make clear, in short supply.

The script is surtitled (that is, displayed above the stage) and, unlike many other captioned performances I’ve seen over the years, the right words come up at the right time. Occasionally, a phrase is momentarily displayed incorrectly, before being revised and corrected, an ode to the voice recognition technology that the audience is meant to believe is in use throughout. But the technology also takes on a persona of its own, conversing with Scott when he needs to take a breather. Sarah, on the other hand, is more adversarial, and understandably so – the computer is just that, an inanimate object with no free will of its own.

Or is it? The rather captivating discussion turns its attention to the ever-increasing role of artificial intelligence. Examples not explicitly stated in the show include face ID and image recognition, online banking, satellite navigation devices and search engines. What happens, Simon asks, when artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence? It’s already happened, Sarah counters, with Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer, beating world champion Garry Kasparov in a chess match. The future, they assert, is bleak, involving a levelling-down in which everyone, in effect, becomes a person with an intellectual disability – like Kasparov, unable to keep pace with technology.

The trio’s individual and collective struggles are substantial. And if people with intellectual disabilities can get their head around what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t, what does that say for the likes of household names who have been found guilty of crimes against the person? Occasionally, the disabilities the characters refer to can’t help but seep through, most notably when Scott believes he is being helpful in advising Sarah to stay away from paedophiles. Sarah replies that she is thirty-six.

The irony is not lost on the audience, and certainly not on the cast, that highly intelligent thinking is coming from – let’s use the term one more time – people with intellectual disabilities. There’s audience involvement (not the same thing as audience participation), and it’s also worth pointing out the usual ‘theatre etiquette’ is deliberately and gloriously disregarded by way of a pre-show announcement, in order to welcome (not accommodate, not tolerate, but openly welcome) anyone who may not be able to sit still and silently for the duration of the show.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this might turn out to be a free-for-all, with people on their phones browsing social media, openly talking with each other at full conversational volume, and rustling confectionary wrappers. Quite the opposite. Giving people the freedom to do as they please works better than imposing miscellaneous rules, at least for this show. With much food for thought on several levels, this is a bold and admirable production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Weaving a narrative through human rights, sexual politics, and the projected dominance of artificial intelligence, Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is a sly theatrical revelation inspired by mistakes, mis-readings, mis-leadings and misunderstanding, Shadow reminds us that none of us are self-sufficient and all of us are responsible.

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is a story about a public meeting, the type of meeting you would hope to happen in a certain kind of democracy. How do we come together to make decisions that are in the best interest of a civic society? This is a play about individual and collective responsibility.

Performers & Creative Team
Authors: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Performers: Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price
Composition: Luke Howard Trio: Daniel Farrugia, Luke Howard, Jonathon Zion
Sound Design: Lachlan Carrick
Lighting Design: Andrew Livingston, bluebottle
Screen Design: Rhian Hinkley, lowercase
Costume Design: Shio Otani
AI Voice Over: Belinda McClory
Script Consultant: Melissa Reeves
Translation: Jennifer Ma

Creative Development: Michael Chan, Mark Cuthbertson, Mark Deans, Rhian Hinkley, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Pippin Latham, Andrew Livingston, Sarah Mainwaring, Victoria Marshall, Scott Price, Brian Tilley, Sonia Teuben

Touring Director: Tamara Searle
Stage Manager: Alana Hoggart
Sound Engineer: Damien Charles
Company Manager: Erin Watson
Production Manager: Bao Ngouansavanh
Senior Producer: Tanya Bennett
Executive Producer: Tim Stitz

Back to Back Theatre
19 – 22 October 2022

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