Secrets and theatre seem to go hand in hand at the moment. The Lyric Hammersmith’s much-talked about season of secret theatre, where the name and nature of the play is kept quiet until you’re sitting in the stalls, continues apace in the new year. Now there’s more from Secret Theatre London – opening a show in their home town after working in New York and LA.
The production is billed as an ‘immersive experience’. In reality, there’s little about the piece to justify that description. The audience is talked at, as if we were another character, but we’re obviously not expected to contribute and we’re sat in seats watching the show as we might in any other theatre.
The premise – or gimmick – is that the dress code, venue and name of the show is kept secret until you buy a ticket. I’ve been asked not to reveal the play, but it’s an adaptation of one of Quentin Tarantino’s more violent films.
If this is sounding like a reverse version of the Secret Cinema craze – where you’re plunged into a real live world of a film, before actually watching said film, then don’t be mistaken. This is a straight performance of a famous film that has been altered slightly to reflect a British setting.
The jokes are Tarantino’s, and where the production manages to evoke a sense of humanity’s capacity for brutality – that’s Tarantino’s too. Really, Richard Crawford and Brooke Johnston’s production provokes the question – when you can simply watch the original film in all its mastery, what is the point?
It’s not that there could never be a theatre version of a Tarantino film, it’s just that this is such a faithful reproduction of the original that all tension and drama flies out the window. Some theatrical reinvention would have been appreciated, but there’s certainly none of that here.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell
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I am a big fan of something beyond a typical night at the theatre and immersive events where you feel part of the production based in unknown locations and disused buildings. Look left Look right, Punchdrunk, Gingerline, Secret Cinema, Future Cinema and others with a similar set up... I follow almost daily on all available sources, discussions on face book and review articles. This was the first performance in London of US company intriguingly called Secret theatre which made me buy the tickets without thinking twice.. The first, pleasant, but a bit suspicious surprise, was the price as it was much lower comparing to what other production companies charge for their work and set up (Not complaining though as usually it’s a massive work involved into setting up those events) as well as the fact that only a few dates were sold out as usually everything “secret” is fully booked for the next couple of weeks/months depending on the time the show runs for. I couldn’t make myself stop from having a quick sneaky look into already published reviews and feedbacks, and to be honest, they were not great. My immersive theatre lovers group on face book has been actively discussing the show as soon as it was out and seemed like everyone was quite sceptical about it. Secret location, undisclosed movie, a dress code, an alias, announcements of pre party events (even though I was really confused when and where and how did I miss it), all this introduction communication raised my expectations for it to be some sort of immersive, and close to Secret Cinema concept. I will not count the fact that all this was sent to me just one day before the performance and only after my email request saying that I received no instructions so far. My excitement was already a bit lowered by the reviews, and I got the feeling that even though the company was trying to get the ticket holders to get into the spirit of the performance, there will be no need for announced dress code so ignored that as well as alias, and in fact none of that was needed or used in the performance. Though some people came with some elements of police dress code in their outfits. Unusual venues are key in creating immersive shows, and the Rag Factory, the warehouse, just off Brick Lane, seemed to me like a good setting for Secret Theatre production so definitely points for the venue choice. However, as soon as we walked in I was a bit concerned with the seats arranged like in a movie theatre as this is not what you will expect to see in truly immersive production. The briefings that I read before, promised some action from 7pm and that’s where I hoped to see immersive elements which give you hints what movie will be acted on the stage later. Not sure if we came too late (7.30) or there was not much going on, but haven’t noticed any signs of audience participation action. In the course of action there were just a few elements of interaction with the audience. Sitting in the front row also helped to feel as part of the performance, but don’t expect anything more than just a few lines addressed to the audience. It was good just a stage adaptation of the film. I think my friend felt a bit differently as she didn’t have any expectations or previous experience of immersiveness, hardly knew anything about the event, so for her it was just a good play she thoroughly enjoyed. That said, I would call it site specific rather than immersive. I think it has been just marketed in a wrong way, it could have been still secret, the same location, the same communication line but without misleading should have positioned it as a stage adaptation of a secret movie rather than immersive theatre event. But having said all the above, I want to particularly notice the great acting of Mr Blonde and Mr White., My knowledge of theatre techniques and standards is limited to the experience of regular theatre goer, and probably I am not the best to judge, as now reading some other reviews, a lot of them don’t praise the acting level of this performance, personally I think these two guys were the best. Their high energy, emotions, poses, living in the role kept my attention to the stage and each detail every single minute of the duration of the play. I had my own and the best immersive element of the show when Mr White came up to us after the play just for a friendly chat, and to ask what did we think of the play. It doesn’t happen at every show that actors come off the stage to the audience just to catch up. I was impressed and almost speechless as he was exactly the one at the centre of my attention throughout the whole play. I also think that this particular movie is not the easiest one to set on the stage and especially in this type of venue with no special effects, limited backstage space for actors to enter and exit the stage, and I think the ways around and solutions for it were quite good in this play.
Ok, so I may be biased as I volunteer at shelter, the charity benefitting from the show but I thought it was a stellar show. The adaptation was fun and the actors gave it a new identity and it made me jump in my seat and laugh out loud. Fans of Billy Connolly may be surprised to see his twin! I never go to the theatre due to the expense but I like that such a great show was made affordable.
This was a good version of an American classic done British - the acting performances are solid and the feel is that you are looking right into the action. I thought it could have been more immersive in some parts but was glad they didn't buy too much into that gimmick. I especially liked the Detective who gave me a ticking off at the interval. So if theatre without the gimmicks is your bag, then this is for you.
A very interesting evening! I took my boyfriend as he is a big Tarantino fan, i thought it was a risk as he isn't the biggest theatre fan and i'm actually not the biggest Tarantino fan. We were undercover cops with alias's which we didn't disclose to the reporter at the door! It was great to see a lady in one of the leading roles and brought a fresh dynamic to the production and the setting in London worked great, as did the performance space as we felt we were right in there with them. The two leading actors were great, and a little scary! All in all a good value for money fun night, and i was pleased that part of my ticket price was going to two charities!