Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith

 “You clandestine peasant.
‘You curdled cock’”

Much of the buzz about Secret Theatre was the fact that audiences are kept in the dark about what it is they are booking for, placing their trust in the hands of an adventurous company looking to shake up the way theatre is created and commodified in this country. It makes for an entertaining evening, especially at the start as one waits to find out where in the theatre we’re going to be, and what delights are in store.

As it was, I got to the end of Show 4 without having worked out much to be honest. The post-show information told me it was a play named Glitterland, an adaptation of John Webster’s The White Devil by Hayley Squires but not being a play I am familiar with, that proved of little assistance. In a densely woven plot, the striking aesthetic of the company – directed here by Ellen McDougall – takes you a long way but not quite far enough into a satisfying dramatic experience. 

But it is a theatrical pleasure. There’s a huge amount of inventiveness at play: contemporary meshes up against the classic most pleasingly; snatches of popular songs are used wittily throughout; and the actors – already bold – are really growing into their ability to push boundaries and make the kind of creative choices we see too little in the UK. In this respect, it really is Leo Bill who is emerging as a bona fide star out of this illustrious group, his manipulative politico here a sensational performance.

He plays Nemo, a man far too happy to ruthlessly exploit the charms of his Marilyn Monroe-eque starlet of a sister Victoria, an excellent Katherine Pearce, who is gradually exposed to the world of murder and revenge in which her brother operates. As with many a Jacobean play, the number of characters and devious plot twists drag down the pace and the exciting approach doesn’t always make up for this. It is remains fun to watch though.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 8th March 

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