Using the theories of semiotics, structuralism and framing, conduct a close, analytical reading of either Neil La Bute’s The Shape of Things or the suffragette plays.
Throughout this essay I aim to analyse Neil La Bute’s The Shape of Things considering different theories provided by Pavis, Saussure and Goffman and applying them to the play.
As audience members, we can interpret and make meaning of things that happen onstage. Sometimes, unknowingly we analyse performances based on things incorporated in Pavis’ questionnaire making connections without even trying. To begin, I would like to discuss costume as I believe that for the character or Adam specifically, the use of costume is crucial and progressive. Pavis, in his questionnaire, suggests we should think how costume works and its relationship to actors’ bodies. We are first introduced to Adam as a ‘young man (in uniform)’ (LaBute:2010:1), but as the scene progresses we learn that despite being at work and wearing assigned clothing he is still wearing his own jacket that he isn’t too keen to give up. When Evelyn asks he mumbles ‘oh, that’s, umm…’ and ‘it’s my own…’s not part of the uniform. It’s mine.'(LaButes:2010:14). The repetition of who the jacket belongs too conveys a fondness of the outerwear. This is important because when considering the character of Adam, the costume he wears almost relates to his personality throughout the play. We know he changes because his feelings for Evelyn allows him to be manipulated thus, the more his costume, rather his whole look, alters, the more we know he is allowing Evelyn to control him. Hence, when Philip, Adams best friend, questions his new costume ‘…you’ve had that frumpy-looking fucker for three years, probably more, and I’ve never seen you out of it’, (LaBute:2010:87) an audience can pose questions also. From just looking at costume so much more unravels about Adam. Whether or not he is meant to be portrayed as ‘clingy’ or reliant, we see these qualities as he dumps his ‘old self’ as in costume, by trading in his beloved ‘cord jacket’ (LaButes:2010:86) for something not quite his style. We know it is unlike Adam because Phillip disagrees with the ‘tommy hilifiger-ish job’ (LaBute:2010:86). A change of costume for a change of character representing to the audience much more than just a jacket but a reason for changing himself as a person by stopping addicting habits ‘did you stop biting your nails?” (LaButes:2010:54) to ending friendships ‘he was willing to give those friends up when asked’ (LaBute:2010:121) and all because of Evelyn ‘hey, she likes it’ (LaButes:2010:87).
If I were to consider Adams jacket in terms of Saussures theory of semiotics it could be that the jacket is just a jacket and within the play until it is changed the jacket is simply a signifier, J-A-C-K-E-T and that can be signified as something that brings warmth and comfort, a protection from the cold. An audience can tell it is just a jacket because it will have two arms and a body designed for humans to wear, but even though it is simply a jacket ‘…physical objects are able to convey meaning: as signs’, (Counsell and Wolf: 2010:3) and that is why it suggests more meaning when Adam changes it.
A certain event or object exists in a frame of meaning, the frame is the actual context. Bibliography
Counsell, C. and Wolf, L. (2010). Performance analysis. London: Routledge.
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LaBute, N. (2010). The Shape of things. London: Faber and Faber.