ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
by Charlotte Loveridge
The idea behind the Secret Theatre season is simple and bold. Firstly, lose the commercial gimmicks and hype, as well as the operating principle that theatre is more about selling tickets than creating a theatrical experience which is memorable, meaningful and moving. This includes no star billing, no expensive sets or props, and no persuasive targeted marketing campaigns. Secondly, house a repertory company of twenty actors, following the model more common in Continental Europe, and with their lengthier, democratic collaboration, allow them to build up rapport, trust and honest performances. Thirdly, veil the end results in secrecy: audiences do not know what show they will see, its title, writer or director. There are apparently classic plays, adaptations and new plays as part of this season, but what they are, when they are on and how long for is classified.
On the strength of Show 3, the season is fulfilling the promise of its manifesto to the hilt. A morbid farce with political bite, the sharp, needling writing collides a highly charged moral situation with cleverly poised characterisation, barbed social comment and superficial corporate rhetoric. The result is a smart, provocative comedy. Moreover, if the writing's abrasive humour and honesty suggest an evening of unadulterated chilling darkness, then the performances and direction perfectly balance this by bringing out the humanity of the work. The repertory system at the heart of Secret Theatre certainly seems to be working: the actors' realisation of characters appears simple and entire, and the dynamics between them seem authentic. These are actors utterly at home in their roles and they manage engaging, engrossing performances which executed by others might have been unforgiving and alienating. The tight, apparently effortless direction belies its own skilful intervention with ease.
Many will applaud the ideology behind this season, but the execution under Sean Holmes' leadership is the real surprise. I suspect that most theatre companies, if stripped of the same home comforts, would struggle to create productions even approaching the sheer basic skill and breathtaking power on show here. Exposing many of those peripheries which convince audiences of a play's worth as what they are: peripheral, the season bucks the trend of the audience being an outright consumer and theatres getting better and better at selling. After all, what is most desirable as a purchase is not necessarily the best theatre. Instead, there is a core richness and humanity, and a theatre which asks cogent questions with no easy answers. With this one-off, experimental season, we have been granted a glimpse of the enduring power of theatre and its artistic possibilities.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.