The Shawl is a fascinating play about mysticism, magic and deceit, in which an apparent clairvoyant named John, shows his lover, Charles, how he manages the tricks and sleights of hand of his dubious profession. Charles suggests that they use these techniques to con his latest client, Miss A, out of a recent inheritance. But in playing the con, and maximising the deceit, John, Charles and Miss A stumble upon the mystery at the heart of the difference between fact and fiction.
Reviewing a 2009 revival at the Arcola Theatre, London, Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian: 'The play works well for a number of reasons: it creates doubt; it suggests, like Jonson's Volpone and The Alchemist, that the conman depends on the psychological need of the victim to be gulled; and it makes good use of Mamet's trademark technique of creating a musical rhythm out of the ellipses of everyday speech . . . It's a wonderful play that acts as a metaphor for the theatrical process itself'.
The Shawl was first performed at the Goodman Theater's New Theater Company in Chicago on April 19 1985 in a production directed by Gregory Mosher. The UK premiere followed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs on 9 June 1986, directed by Richard Eyre.