Entertainment & Arts

What Shadows: Critics hail 'provocative' Enoch Powell play

Ian McDiarmid Image copyright Ellie Kurttz
Image caption Ian McDiarmid plays Enoch Powell in What Shadows

A new play about MP Enoch Powell has been described as "the most provocative theatre act in a decade" by one critic.

Ian McDiarmid plays the late politician in What Shadows, which examines his infamous anti-immigration Rivers of Blood speech from 1968.

The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish wrote that it was "chilling" to hear his sentiments again "as if newly minted".

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre should be "applauded for opening the floodgates to serious debate", he said.

'Timely and intelligent'

"Does this re-enactment... rank as the most provocative theatrical act of the decade? I'd say so," Cavendish wrote in his four-star review.

"Given the current, high levels of concern about immigration and how long a shadow that speech has cast, [this was] a depressingly necessary evening."

The production is partly set in 1992 and sees Caribbean immigrant Rose Cruickshank confront the MP about his views.

The play also flashes back to 1960s to see the influences that shaped the two main characters.

Image copyright Ellie Kurttz
Image caption Rebecca Scroggs plays Caribbean immigrant Rose Cruickshank

Ann Treneman of The Times also gave the show four stars, adding that McDiarmid "gives a standout performance".

"This play does not mince words," she wrote. "Some are offensive, yet [writer] Chris Hannan isn't interested in political correctness but in getting to the core of a story.

"Not just about Powell but of England - what does it mean to be English and who exactly are we anyway?"

The Financial Times described the play as "compelling" in its four-star review, while The Stage said the production was "timely and intelligent".

Image copyright Ellie Kurttz
Image caption The play's Birmingham run ends on 12 November

Michael Billington gave the production a slightly less warm review in The Guardian, awarding it three stars.

"While Hannan makes it clear that we are still obsessed with immigration and the nature of Englishness, his play is much better at exploring the paradoxes of Powell than those of the surrounding culture," he wrote.

Referring to the two main characters, he added: "Powell, whatever you think of him, is complex. His principal antagonist, Rose, is simply confusing."

WhatsOnStage also gave the show three stars. "Hannan brings history back to life: a black and white photo recoloured. It sheds light on the present," wrote Matt Trueman.

"Hannan's structure sets up eloquent and forceful head-to-heads, but in giving space to vital debates, each strand gives up its narrative drive."

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