Review: A Secret Life, Theatre503 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe

“Do you know what goes on in my head? Do I know what goes on in yours? Maybe it’s not what either of us expect…”

What an unexpectedly, tenderly beautiful thing this turned out to be. Too often, words like ‘immersive’ and ‘innovative’ are thrown out too easily by theatre marketing teams so my intrigued hopes were adjusted accordingly by the potential of this piece of ‘digital promenade’ theatre as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. But what playwright Tamara Micner and Baseless Fabric Theatre have done here shines with a subtle but sparkling freshness as it actually delivers what it promised.

A Secret Life arose from a series of interviews with people aged 65+ in the Merton and Wandsworth area about their recollections of being a teenager. These memories and experiences were edited and reshaped into a single narrative of a couple called Audrey and Fred, and then played through headphones on apps (created by NetStronghold) on our smartphones as groups of around 15 people follow Audrey on a walk through Battersea Park and its environs.

The result is a gently beguiling stream-of-consciousness of reminiscence and rumination, deriving its power not from overemphasis but rather from the lightness of its connection to its surroundings. Memories of the hardships suffered in the immediate post-war period are thus interrupted by the sight of a building (“my father used to work in a factory like that”) or a shop sign (“they didn’t have dry cleaning in my day…”) and piece by piece, a picture of life from an entirely different perspective is built up.

A post-show discussion revealed that Audrey’s story was a composite of up to 10 different people but during its telling, you would never have guessed it, such is Micner’s skill here, it really felt like being in thrall to the wonderful raconteur in your family (in my case the much-missed Aunty Kath). And what stories they were, the poignancy of the real diversity in experience of being evacuated, smoking at the age of 12, meeting Jimi Hendrix before he became famous, the wholly different world of courtship…

The more heartbreaking side was the frequent return to generational relationships, the trials between mothers and daughters and how they seem doomed to be repeated (or not as the case may be). And the latter part of A Secret Life sees Audrey meet up with her teenage daughter and nip to the pub where the audience gets to sit and watch their conversation, lip-synched to the audio in our ears. Technologically interesting but most importantly, dramatically satisfying in the most touching of manners.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 15th May

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