Pros: When this production is at its most dark and gothic, it is beautiful, funny and full of sinister intention.
Cons: It tries to be too many things at once, leaving this show a little messy around the edges.
On paper The Secret Keeper, a “political fairy tale for adults”, sounds dark and gothic, and I am always up for that. Entering the theatre, seeing three black robed figures on stage, it screamed dark, shrieked gothic. But once it started, it just wasn’t, at least not enough for me.
Although, don’t let me tell you that this show isn’t worth your time, for many it might be just your thing. There are parts that enthrall and enchant, as all good fairy tales should. The central concept is one that has so much promise. Father discovers that Good Daughter has a gift of taking away your guilt and anxiety if you tell her your secrets, and soon the whole village is doing so. Of course no one seems to consider the burden this places on her young shoulders, and where this will eventually lead. Dark. Gothic. Perfect. At least on paper.
It begins with Good Daughter describing the town. This has all the classic fairy tale elements; baker, butcher, doll maker. To give it the adult, she throws in comments of same sex relationships, illicit affairs and her parents’ lack of a sex life. The problem with this is that she does so in a way that simply grates on me, feeling like it is aimed at five-year olds. It also feels as if she is trying to shock with the little adult titbits dropped in so casually. It’s 2017, not 1980 when that might have worked. I appreciate what the playwright, Angela Clerkin, is trying to do, I appreciate that for many this works, but personally, it just irritates me and goes on too long as an introduction. It is like Listen With Mother with added sexual references.
Another major problem is the casting of Angela Clerkin as Good Daughter. Although I suppose one of the perks of also being the writer is that no one’s going to say no! I couldn’t help but smile as she sang “It’s all about me. Me. Me. Me.” Yes it felt like it was and therein lay a problem. I just couldn’t connect with the character – I couldn’t see past the middle-aged woman trying so hard to be a sweet innocent teen.
The last of my concerns is that this production does not know what genre it falls in. At times it is slap stick with that (questionable) adult humour, then edgy and then light and fluffy. When a musical element was added, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I left feeling confused as to what audience this production is aimed at.
However, when it works, it works well. Besides the brilliant central story idea, the acting is faultless (if you can get past the questionable casting of Good Daughter). Niall Ashdown as Father and Anne Odeke as Mother are superb and their relationship is very believable. For all my questioning of the musical element, Ashdown sent shivers down the spine as he sang “I’m disappointed in you” to his daughter. Had this set the tone of the whole play, I would be demanding a ticket to return right now.
Ultimately, The Secret Keeper just falls short of expectations. The story has enough about it to be something dark and gothic, and to live up to the title of adult fairy tale, it just never focuses enough to drive it home. It has an audience, it just needs to decide who that is.
Writer: Angela Clerkin
Director: Angela Clerkin/ Lucy J Skilbeck
Producer: Will Young
Booking Until: 21 October (the touring until 10 November)
Box office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/secretkeeper