Chris Hannan's play What Shadows explores issues around identity and immigration through the lens of British politician Enoch Powell's notorious 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech and its impact on a bitterly divided country. The play was first performed at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 27 October 2016. It was revived at the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh from 7 September 2017, before transferring to Park Theatre, London, from 27 September 2017.
The play is set in two time periods. In 1992, Rose Cruickshank, a black Oxford academic, recruits Sofia, a former don she once vilified, to join her in writing a book about English identity. Part of Rose’s mission, accomplished in the final scene, is to interview the aged Enoch Powell. In flashbacks to the late 1960s, we discover the influences that shaped the two main characters. Growing up in Wolverhampton, Powell’s constituency, the young Rose found herself at odds with her mixed-race Barbadian mother, Joyce. Meanwhile Powell, despising the Tory leadership and deploring the national silence on immigration, made his infamous speech about race relations at Birmingham’s Midland hotel.
The play takes its title from a line in a 1780 speech by Edmund Burke, 'What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue'.
The premiere production was directed by Roxana Silbert and designed by Ti Green. It was performed by Waleed Akhtar, April Alexander, Bríd Brennan, George Costigan, Ian McDiarmid (as Enoch Powell), Rebecca Scroggs (as Rose Cruickshank), Phaldut Sharma and Paula Wilcox.