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A CurtainUp London London Review
Show 3

by Charlotte Loveridge

"I have grown to love secrecy" — Oscar Wilde
It was inevitable that this year's refurbishment of the Lyric Hammersmith's venerable, if slightly creaky, site would lead to a season of straitened profits. Artistic Director Sean Holmes' reaction was to take the spatial upheaval and minimal financial expectations as an opportunity for startling theatrical innovation, rejecting some of the most cynical and compromising elements common to British theatre today.

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.

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Show 3
With: Nadia Albina, Hammed Animashaun, Leo Bill, Cara Horgan, Charlotte Josephine, Adelle Leonce, Katherine Pearce, Billy Seymour, Sergo Vares, Steven Webb
Directors: Sean Holmes, Ellen McDougall
Assistant Director: Ilnica Radulian
Dramaturg: Simon Stephens
Writers: Caroline Bird, Joel Horwood, Arinze Kene, Hayley Squires
Designers: Hyemi Shin, Paul Wills
Sound Designer: Nick Manning
Lighting Designer: Lizzie Powell
Running time: 95 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 8741 6850
Booking to: 11th November 2013
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 24th October 2013 performance at the Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 0QL (Tube: Hammersmith)

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