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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All about All About My Mother

So last night I was at the press night for All About My Mother, the Old Vic’s new adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s classic [film](http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185125/). My review’s [online now](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/18142/all-about-my-mother), and will be in print in next week’s issue of _The Stage_. In the meantime, the condensed version:

> Oh. Dear. God.

It got [three stars in the Guardian](http://arts.guardian.co.uk/theatre/drama/reviews/story/0,,2162704,00.html). I’m thankful, really, that I don’t have to allocate stars to productions. Heaven knows what I’d have given last night’s show.

The tragic thing is that in so many ways it was _nearly_ right. I remember hearing when the adaptation was first announced, it made perfect sense: here was a film with many theatrical allusions that could easily work as a small, tightly-contained piece. But what happened instead was an opening out, using every inch of the Old Vic’s stage so that actors ended up having to project to be heard by one another, let alone the audience.

The car crash scene, in which Manuela’s son is hit by a car while running to get an autograph from his favourite actress, was technically a great piece of stagecraft. But, like so many scenes which tried to ape the visual look of the original film, it needed a little tough love to prune it away.

**Update:** My review is [now online](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/18142/all-about-my-mother).
**Update 2:** My review made it into [The Guardian’s review of reviews](http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2007/sep/06/theatre2)