Review: Secret Theatre, The Rag Yard, London E1

We were expecting an immersive experience, with notifications of dress codes, secret identities, and all – but what followed was a straightforward play

Note: Because of this play’s supposed “secret” nature, I should warn that this review talks about specifics of the play, including its title and characters. I also explain why, but if you want to see a spoiler-free review you should go elsewhere.

The Lyric Hammersmith has been running a series of “secret theatre” projects recently – encouraging people to book tickets without knowing what they’ll be seeing, and as a result come to a piece with little to no preconceptions built up in their heads.

This Secret Theatre project is not like that. It was, I was told by the PR, more modelling itself on Secret Cinema. This series shows movies in suitably appropriate surroundings, but also with a deeply immersive experience that is just as entertaining, if not more so, than the film itself. So The Shawshank Redemption is presented in an old prison, Bugsy Malone in a speakeasy, Blade Runner in a grimy, industrial near-future where oriental noodle bars rub shoulders with security agents scanning all visitors for signs of replicant behaviour.

So we were expecting a similarly immersive experience for this piece, and notifications of dress codes and secret identities fed into this.

What we got instead was a straightforward play. A truly immersive piece needs to do more than say, “Oh, this piece about the aftermath of a botched heist is set in a warehouse, so let’s stage it in a warehouse”. Especially when that warehouse already hosts events, drama classes and art exhibitions, and the play itself is staged so conventionally.

So the failed promise of an immersive experience was a huge let-down. And that was a shame, because the play itself – an adaptation of a justly popular film – has the potential to be a great stage piece. As presented here, it’s still some way from that – but I think the false promise of an immersive experience will cloud the audience’s judgement of what this show has the potential to be.

And it’s all the more bizarre that the “secret theatre” concept also robs this production of its biggest appeal. I’m not going to beat about the bush any longer: if you go to this play knowing what it is, if you read about this play knowing what it is, it’ll be better for everybody.

Because I, for one, would bite someone’s hand off if they offered me the opportunity to see a stage adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film, Reservoir Dogs.

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Coming soon: Neverwhere

On Saturday March 16, BBC Radio 4 broadcasts the first part of a new adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. The story tells of Richard Mayhew, a Scot living an ordinary, dull life in London until he helps an injured girl on the street – and finds himself embroiled in London Below, the magical twilight world that exists just out of sight of the capital we all think we know.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, LOST Theatre

Editor’s Rating

Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, about life in a mental institution, was published 50 years ago this year in 1962, with Dale Wasserman’s theatrical adaptation appearing one year later. In this anniversary year, the LOST Theatre’s revival provides an atmospheric retelling that feels contemporary.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, LOST Theatre3Scott Matthewman2012-03-18 21:51:13Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, about life in a mental institution, was published 50 years ago this year in 1962, with Dale Wasserm…

Cool Hand Luke afterparty

Last night, I went to the press night of Cool Hand Luke, a new stage adaptation of the book that was previously adapted as a film starring Paul Newman. I may well write up a review shortly, but I have a pile of hard-boiled eggs to get through first…

Anyway, the main reason I was there was, once again, to snap some pictures for The Stage‘s party pages. The sprawling party, spread across several huge rooms of the Waldorf Astoria, made it hard to find all the celebrities who were there – but a selection of snaps I did manage to get are below.

Maurice, Above the Stag

The last thing gay theatre needs, one might suppose, is another story about a young man struggling with his attraction to men before settling into life fully reconciled with his homosexuality. But EM Forster’s 1914 novel, shocking even when first published in 1971, still has something to say about the importance of loyalty to oneself over any conventions of class, family, religion or society.

Adam Lilley (Maurice) and Rob Stott (Durham) in Maurice at Above the Stag theatre
Roger Parsley and Andy Graham’s new stage adaptation is perhaps a little too faithful, choosing to play out Maurice Hall’s sexual awakening through a series of staccato scenes. This leads to the first act lacking any real momentum, a dangerous quality in a production that is just under three hours in length.

Thankfully, director Tim McArthur and an able cast work their hardest to bring life into the script, finding new wit and nuance to appeal to a 2010 audience, while remaining faithful to a novel written nearly a century ago.

As moustachioed hypnotist Mr Lasker Jones, Jonathan Hansler threatens at times to turn the production into one of melodramatic pastiche, but it adds a levity that helps propel the second act forward. He is helped in this endeavour by Persia Lawson as Ada, able to wring comedy from awkward silence.

But it is the central role of Maurice which must carry the production, and Adam Lilley succeeds admirably. The progression of a socially and sexually unaware 14 year old arriving, via a confused adolescence, at contented homosexual adulthood is played with delicacy and care.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](

Above the Stag, London, March 2-28
Author: EM Forster, adapted by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham
Director: Tim McArthur
Producer: Peter Bull for Above the Stag
Cast includes: Adam Lilley, Rob Stott, Leanne Masterson, Jonathan Hansler, Persia Lawson, Stevie Raine
Running time: 2hrs 50mins