Mark Ravenhill admired Sean Holmes’s Secret Theatre company so much that he wrote to him asking to be involved. Holmes said yes and Show 6 is the result.
When it first launched, advance information about Secret Theatre productions was intentionally kept to a minimum. But Show 6 sees its author, Mark Ravenhill, announced in advance in an attempt to avoid misguided accusations of marketing gimmickry. It also features only three of the 10-strong permanent ensemble and is the first production to open not at the Lyric Hammersmith, but at Paines Plough’s Roundabout in Edinburgh.
With these restrictions in place – a cast of three, a specific venue and certain running time – Show 6 has arguably been the most pressurised process yet. Luckily, they had one of the most prolific playwrights of his generation on hand to help out and, for the most part, both he and the company rise to the challenge.
Directed by Caroline Steinbeis (another new addition), Show 6 was inspired by a passage Ravenhill read about orphaned children of victims of the Pinochet regime who were subsequently adopted by their oppressors. Ravenhill dramatises this displacement by fusing two vocabularies, with Steven Webb’s central character and a friend (Cara Hogan) having run over a “chav” in a “favela”. Add in references to “the coup” and a “new social order” and Ravenhill’s language begins to sound as though he has put the contents of the BBC homepage into a food processor and poured the resulting concoction onto the page.
The language is reminiscent of the word-mangling found in Vivienne Franzmann’s Pests at the Royal Court earlier this year, but Ravenhill goes further, with his characters spluttering out unfinished sentences and missing words to go with their cryptic distorted dialect. It has you perched on the edge of your seat, trying to make sense of its lurching linguistic malfunctioning.
Sadly, the plot of Ravenhill’s supposed thriller has no such effect, with its puzzling U-turns slamming the breaks on what is a promising premise – what do you do if you discover that you are not the person you thought you were?
Still, flawed though it is, Show 6 fulfils one of Secret Theatre’s central artistic ambitions, offering a writer a chance to explore how to present new work in a radically different way. On those terms, it succeeds, and for that I can only applaud it.
Show 6 is at Summerhall @ Roundabout (Venue 26) until 23 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.