The Lyric’s Secret Theatre rep season starts making more sense with its third instalment. Where the first two shows – of a projected 10 – were recognisable classics dumped in the Lyric’s partially mothballed main auditorium and not necessarily particularly tailored to the rep company’s abilities, ‘Show 3’ feels like more love has gone into it.
It’s a piece of new writing that includes decent sized parts for each of the 10-actor company, and was clearly written with the individual actors in mind. And Sean Holmes directs with more invention than ‘Show 1’ and ‘Show 2’ – it even takes place in a ‘secret’ part of the Lyric.
The problem is that the play itself – which in the spirit of secrecy and fact you haven’t heard of it I won’t name – bears the mark of its short gestation. It’s a black comedy set in a prison where an ambitious warden (Cara Horgan) is hoping to make her name by trialling the return of the death penalty to the UK.
The writer lands some smart blows against evasion of responsibility by the political and media classes, and it wrong footed me on more than one occasion. But never really flows, often substituting glibness and REALLY LOUD SHOUTING for depth or character development. It comes across as a bit sub Orton farce/Pinter comedy – a solid effort for a presumably short writing time, but not the play it could be.
Still, it's very amusing – the author gives great one-liners – and the ensemble members definitely come into their own here: I was a particular fan of Steven Webb’s dithering surgeon who blithely invokes his Hippocratic Oath every time anyone asks him to do anything.
If the Secret Theatre series does ever yield any truly great productions, I suspect it’ll be towards the end, when the whole company – writers included – is firing on all cylinders. ‘Show 3’ isn’t great, but it’s worth your time, a talented company slowly getting there.
By Andrzej Lukowski