Pros: A fun way to see a familiar classic re-imagined.
Cons: Impossible to find, a disappointing surprise and some lacklustre performances.
When you’re off to see a secret show on a private island in East London, it’s hard not to be a little excited. In fact, more than a little excited. My guest and I speculated for some time, looking at the mysterious picture we had – the only hint of what was to come – and wondered what the show might be about. However, that excitement waned quickly when we could not find the venue. Yes, I know it should be a little hard to find, given its secret status, but after almost thirty minutes wandering around some desolate roads with no other humans in sight (after following the instructions for a car journey exactly), we began to get a little frustrated. We even started to imagine that this might be an ingenious part of the performance… Unfortunately not. Almost ready to turn back and give up, we eventually stumbled across the performance.
Within the first few seconds, I recognised the play. It is a play a know and love; however, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that it wasn’t something a bit more exciting. I have seen this particular play many times before and, if I wanted to see it again, I would find no shortage of companies in London doing exciting things with it. However, this time the story was re-imagined with an innovative East London twist. This was an interesting concept and had excellent potential. From where we were on the Island, we could see iconic parts of the London skyline, a tube station, red buses passing by… We were unmistakeably in East London and it was beautiful, set against a gorgeous sunset. However, many of the characters lapsed into clichés of the stereotypes they are meant to represent and this was very disappointing. There was an awkward moment where an east London ‘lad’ tried to rub himself against an audience member (I’m all for audience interaction but there is a line between interaction and intimidation), and another where drugs were taken inexplicably and uncomfortably. Other characters became caricatures: nothing but laughing stocks. While this silliness elicited a few cheap laughs, it ultimately damaged the performance later when they tried to shake this off and we could not take them seriously.
The acting was a total mixed bag, with some good performances nestled in amongst a range of unconvincing portrayals. Unfortunately, as a result, I found it hard to stay engaged until the end. This was in part due to a few key lacklustre performances, partly due to not being able to see (it was dark outside with poor lighting) and partly due to knowing almost word for word what was going to happen next. Not quite the surprise I was hoping for.
It was a promenade performance, but not one of the better ones I have been to. There was no immersive element – the performers didn’t seem to know whether to talk to the audience or not and this made for uncomfortable viewing. The gravel underfoot meant it was even harder to hear the performers and the plain clothes ushers did a poor job of shepherding people around, meaning that often the audience dithered, not sure where to go. The space could have been used more effectively, but it felt like we were moving from place to place for no real reason. It caused the energy to grind to a halt while we all trundled to the next place, which was often just another blank space.
I do think this show has potential. The concept behind it was clever and the setting was unique. It just needed to be a little pacier and the cast (and ushers) need to be a bit more comfortable with what they are doing. If I had been to see this show knowing what it was going to be, perhaps I would have been kinder. However, when a show is marketed as ‘secret’, it has a certain duty to make good on the sense of mystery and anticipation that is built around it and unfortunately, this production didn’t do it for me.
Booking Until: 1 September 2015
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/secrettheatrelondon