Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Valentine's in Glitterland, Secret Theatre Show 4

It was Valentine's Day, I'd already had several glasses of wine and I was with my friend whose boyfriend had kindly lent her to me for the night. We'd picked the day of lovers purposefully to forget the flowers and forced fashions and instead to see Secret Theatre: Show 4; the fourth and final in the series that had been taking place at the Lyric over the renovation period. Show 3 had been disarming but epic, therefore I was expecting a lot. 

As you go to the Secret Theatre Series knowing basically nothing, it is hard not to be confused when it starts; there's no theatrical blurb or programme just a cast list with "Based on John Webster's, The White Devil". Perhaps other viewers might know their Jacobean tragedies, but this meant little to us (Googled during the interview). The play had been modernised and sharpened by Hayley Squires in its modern manifestation, Glitterland.

"How the fuck are we supposed to rule them if they know the truth."

To be honest, the first half was not easy to grasp, though we though afterwards, perhaps this was purposeful. What became clear from the start though was that there was some sort of dystopian power-struggle going on with nuances of incest and sexual subterfuge. Set in a future-land, a future court or political ruling class, the themes, staging, language and feel of the play was somewhere between Pulp Fiction, Sin City and Brecht's Ui. Beauty, celebrity and power are valued above all, indeed half the ruling class are part of the "entertainment" sector.

Certainly there was a sinister air from the start as the leading female, Marilyn Monroe-esque, Victoria sang her old-Hollywood musical numbers and was lusted after by the married prince of the land. Still confused a little, we were thrust into Godfather-territory as all the men had a meeting about something or other; all with names such as Franco, Lupo, Ciano and Nemo and someone was banished. We also accepted that there was part of what was occurring that may have been imagined by one or more characters, but we weren't completely sure of which part it was. Perhaps the sexy red headed woman that only appeared in the presence of one character, Nemo - the play's Iago - and seemed otherworldly.

"What is wrong with not looking beautiful"

By the interval, I was soft-headed, partly due to wine, partly due trying to scrunching my brow in concentration... The acting was fabulous, that was obvious. Especially Katherine Pearce's, Victoria and Leo Bill's, Nemo and having seen these actors before in Show 3, this really showed off their versatility. I was also pleased to find my date as muddled as me about where it was going..

The second half was certainly more elucidated and drew things together so we could enjoy the power of the acting, though after the interview it felt a little predictable. More people are killed, public speeches are given, people sing, drugs are taken and the women fade into the background even more..

Still Leo Bill's performance "glitters" as Nemo; playing the character so well, that the audience shirk back as he draws near.

"We'll be running the Glitterland together, like we always dreamed"

What did I take from this piece...power, money and celebrity are bad, sure. A ruthless leader isn't great, but a quiet fixer and right-hand man to the leader is often more dangerous (I believe Shakespeare taught me that). It was an interesting depiction with insightful acting In a "performed piece ": reality was not courted by the staging or the characterisation of the lead roles, it was satirical and cartoonish and yet those studied characters were so well done that it was certainly not Brechtian, we were not ready to get up and judge. That alone is enough for me to recommend it to others. I liked Hayley Squires' script, I think that she could produce something that really pushed boundaries in the future. Leo Bill will be famous as a great actor one day, I am sure of it. Many of the rest of the cast were extremely good too, there was just some little thing that failed to make it glitter, or leave me winded as Show 3 had done.

After this me and my Val-date staggered to the pub and quickly moved onto more liquor and cigarettes and jocular discussion on the affairs of our friends and enemies, unfettered by the storms raging around us. With Show 3, we had been numb for an hour afterwards barely speaking except to discuss the play. And that, my friends.. silencing the cynical, fickle Londoner... is a sign of something truly wonderful...

Secret Theatre: Show 4
Showing at the Lyric, Hammersmith until the 22nd March
To Book:

Images (c) Lyric, Hammersmith 

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