Northern Stage at King’s Hall, Edinburgh
According to their publicity material, “The Secret Theatre Company is a 20-strong ensemble of actors, writers, directors and designers created to challenge the way theatre is produced and presented in Britain.” They promise exciting, dangerous, risk-taking performances, and “never the same show twice.”
In reality, this translates into a group of young actors dressed in their PE kits, sitting at the edge of a stage, until an audience member chooses that night’s ‘protagonist.’ This, it seems, is the extent of the risk: the actors don’t know which of them will be called upon to perform the lead role. Oh, and there are lots of improvised bits, where one actor has a list of questions to read, and another has to respond spontaneously. So far, so drama workshop exercise.
There isn’t much of a narrative, and ‘protagonist’ seems an odd choice of word to describe the main actor, as there is nothing so traditional here as a character. There’s just a name (tonight’s was Cara), and a series of barely linked scenes. OK, so there’s some pretty full-on wrestling, some clothes swapping, a decent soundtrack and a bit of Romeo and Juliet quite nicely spoken. And, of course, there’s those “impossible tasks” – bending an iron bar, licking your elbow, eating a whole lemon. All made easier, it is revealed, with a little help from your friends. “What was tonight’s show about, Cara?” asked one of the actors. “Exhaustion,” replied Cara, “Exhaustion and friendship.” These words were added to the other – equally bland – statements scrawled on a whiteboard at the back of the stage, presumably the themes ascribed to previous shows.
In truth, this didn’t seem to add up to much. It didn’t feel risky, dangerous, innovative or vital – or any of the other epithets quoted on the publicity posters. It all just felt a little bit… so what?