Sssssh. Keep this secret. Actually, don’t do that. Tell everyone that Secret Theatre is back in Hong Kong after a hugely popular inaugural run last year. Until December 15, expect a plethora of performances of a secret show at a mystery location in the city. But don’t expect us to tell you what show it is or where it’s being performed. You have to buy a ticket for that privilege.
Secret Theatre has been running events in London, New York, LA and Sydney over the past few years. It’s the brainchild of director Richard Crawford and producer Daniel Burke and it’s among only a few companies worldwide that plunge audiences into the engaging world of immersive theatre. Every year, the company sells tickets and only discloses the location details after purchase, refraining from revealing the show until they’re at the stage itself. It’s often based on a movie and involves throwing the audience into the script, where they actually engage in dialogue with the cast. All in all, it may be secret but, once you’re there, it’s bags of fun.
Crawford explains Secret Theatre and immersive theatre in one fell swoop when we meet. “We’re not asking you,” he explains, “to pay a bunch of money, sit in the dark in a normal theatre, clap at the end and walk out. You’re in it. We want you to come on a ride with the actors.” Crawford mentions last year’s successful Hong Kong show, Se7en Deadly Sins, as context. Loosely based on the 1995 film Seven, the production was staged at three city locations over its run. The performances took place on Lamma Island, as well as on a speedboat. And, at each show, audiences took part in a criminal investigation and were also interrogated by police. “In the last show,” he elaborates, “you helped solve the crime, walking through the crime scenes. It’s not a conservative, sitting in a theatre, ‘I saw Hamlet last night’ experience. It’s an ‘I got interrogated by the police last night’ one. It’s interesting because even some of the actors don’t know what to expect on any given night.”
Of course, facilitating the environment is the most trying task for the team. The crux of immersive theatre is its unpredictability and close proximity to the audience. “You could be an amazing actor,” says Crawford. “You could go to the best schools, play Hamlet and get an Oscar but you might not be able to do immersive theatre because when a guy comes up to you and gets in your grill, that might completely throw you because you’re so used to the fourth wall. You need to have performers who can deal with and enjoy audiences.”
Despite how demanding the art form is, Crawford praises Hong Kong’s uniqueness as a city that allowed Secret Theatre to succeed and gain its own personality last year. He hopes it’s equally successful this year. “In Hong Kong,” he explains, “the show was on a boat, in a haunted house and on Lamma Island. That’s completely different. We really want to utilise everything Hong Kong has got to offer. A lot of the people who came to see the show had never even been to Lamma before. That kind of environment doesn’t exist in London.”
Crawford is, of course, keeping mum on the details of this year’s show. But he does let a few clues slip in our interview. He says it’s set to be a ‘thriller’ and it’s based on a film by ‘one of the best directors/auteurs of our generation’. And could it even be based on a horror? “We talked to local communities last year,” he explains, “and they were getting all dressed up and excited. I think horror and thriller are quite popular genres here because Asian cinema do them spectacularly, even better than Western cinema, which is always riffing off of old material that was done originally in China, Japan or Korea anyway.”
Crawford tells us little else, apart from the fact no speedboat is to be involved this year. So, you’ve just got to get your tickets and wait for the mystery to unravel on the secret stage. “You’ve got to come on down,” he tells us. “Just trust us and come on down.”