“Secret” stuff is very much on trend in London at the moment, and in concept it is an exciting and interesting idea. In order for it to be successful though it needs to be seamlessly executed and utterly absorbing. Even when this is achieved though, I suppose it is inevitable that the implied exclusivity spills over into whether or not you are part of the in crowd (and prepared to look over things that would normally be unacceptable) or not (and be disappointed by minimum standards not being met).
Unsure of what I was getting into I simply followed the instructions on the invite presented 24hrs beforehand I went with an open mind to enjoy the evening. And what a wonderful location it is; by the canal in the evening sunshine in one of the coolest parts of town at the moment. The space in which the play was presented was the predictable blank canvas with the unmade bed in the middle, but it was lifted by the totally backlit wall of the “largest light-box in London”.
We’ll deal with the play first, and then return to the broader subjects. The play was meant to be immersive, in which the audience plays the role of the clientele at the plays venue. But it was stiff and contrived, and only casually broken into almost out of duty. The only actor who successfully broke the 4th wall was playing the exceptional Nadia, who although not the only convincing character, was by far the standout performer of the night. Easily the most accessible and authentic character on stage he/she challenged clichés and injected true delight and lifted the whole of the show. The only other worthy characters were the sister and the girlfriend of the main protagonist.
As far as the other characters were concerned it spiralled down to the main protagonist Dominic. It is rare to see a lead played without any redeeming characteristics; but given that is probably what they set out to achieve they definitely achieved it. He is a vaguely racist, absolutely hedonistic misogynist that provided nothing on which the audience could hang any positive emotion. If that is what was being aimed for I suppose they hit it bang on, but we’ve all got characters in our lives that portray some (or all) of Dominic’s life at the edge roller coaster ride, but invariably they also come with something that means we stick with them through the highs and the lows. Not this chap though; who proudly portrays his HIV- status as a certificate on the wall; not as a sign of responsibility but as an ironic statement (you see) in spite of the bacchanalian lifestyle to which he has subscribed. If you are a glass half full sort of person and insist on some positive redress though; the actor has an incredible Adonis like physique that I’m sure many could happily gaze at no matter what was being presented. And there was plenty of opportunity – the swishing silk dressing gown was an interesting affectation that became irritating as is seemed to come off and go on every two minutes or so.
The other characters were potentially interesting, but were not extensively explored. The play itself felt like it was trying rather too hard with insufficient material. Shock seemed to be the tactic of choice, whether in language or actions but it left me feeling disappointed. Cliché was no stranger to the set either, with obvious carry-over of words from the previous production of Reservoir Dogs barely concealed. It’s not giving the game away to wish that they had something more original than “goddam… goddam!” to say after representing the consumption of cocaine. The cast however appeared to genuinely enjoy the subject matter and in attempting to provide a gritty, modern ‘gold-fish’ bowl world of art and creativity were successful. But this did lead to the distinct aroma of ham at some times, and cheese at others, sometimes together in the less polished parts of the act. And that wasn’t down to the meals being eaten by the audience; to which we’ll return to shortly.
Other moments of relief came in the form of interjections of superbly choreographed modern dance, with a truly beautiful, sexy, passionate and modest representation of lovemaking. The male of the piece was far more convincing and appealing to watch in this mode than representing the spoken role he had been given.
The play was better than television in the same way that going to a gig is usually far more rewarding than listening on iTunes. But on returning to the “Secret” theme however the whole experience becomes more disappointing. Ticketing and entrance was chaotic, with individuals familiar to the crew being attended to the exclusion of others who potentially have more to gain by switching off BBC4 and tuning in to the more visceral occasion. To this end there was some sort of drinks reception laid out in one part of the bar that I still don’t know if it was part of the production!
As I mentioned; the venue itself feels like a real find, but somehow it doesn’t manage to please. Service at the bar is atrocious, and I was apparently invisible as all those around me were served before I had time to buy one in the interval. And the drink was desperately needed too, the forum itself being stuffy and oppressive. Maybe they don’t have air conditioning, maybe they were having problems with it but it was unpleasant for the audience and I can only imagine how much so for the performers. There was also no facility to order drinks before the production to collect at the interval which would have helped
Not having time to eat before getting there, rather than rush we decided to (expensively) snack on a thimble of pistachios and odd looking but rather tasty crushed pretzels and eat properly after. Much to our surprise though whole dinners were being consumed by some of the audience, with drinks all round.
Now if this all sounds a bit pretentious I’m no theatre snob; in fact I can’t abide much of the falseness of it and applaud the relaxation of the conventions. But at least some statement of the parameters for the production on entry would set it up for success, particularly where they stray out of the norm for Theatre and more into the realms of “experience”.
It was a real shame as overall the evening managed to end up being significantly less than the sum of its parts. The opportunity to make two and two equal five however was missed by a long chalk. There was certainly a sense of ‘clique’ and ‘pomp’ to the whole affair and perhaps that is the idea of the secret venue and the theme of the production – to feel like you’re being let in to an exclusive, yet sad, life. Unfortunately we weren’t welcome.
Overall experience 1.5/5 – and they all belong to Nadia