After blowing us away with their cracking contemporary version of A Streetcar Named Desire, Secret Theatre Company has torn down the blank white walls of Stella Kowalski’s house and replaced them with the black, ominous walls of their play Glitterland. Second in the company’s touring line-up, and currently taking over the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre, the play is based on John Webster’s 1612 play The White Devil, and it’s safe to say that it packs quite a punch.
This punch is delivered by the boxing glove that is the thick, dense plot that grips you from the moment the lights go down. The play offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the country of Glitterland’s superficial government. They’re a corrupt entity that blinds its nation with art and entertainment in order to forget the fact that its residents are soulless and have no real sense of identity. However, there’s tension in the ranks, and what follows is a dark and intense tale about love, betrayal and corruption.
Okay, so Glitterland doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs, nor does it seem like the sort of play you’d want to take your gran to see. Regardless, it does what it does best, and offers up a refreshingly daunting and mind-boggling piece of theatre that stands out from the others on the menu. Like with Streetcar, Secret Theatre sets in motion those cogs in the back of your head and has you wondering about what kind of play it actually is that you’ve come to see. I’ll admit that these cogs sometimes got the better of me and left me a bit baffled as to what was happening at points, and made me question the characters’ relationships and true intentions, drawing me away from the rich plot. In spite of this, Glitterland still manages to drag you on an intense journey that leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve left the theatre.
Aside from the sometimes baffling plot, it’s hard to fault Glitterland, which ticks all the right boxes in terms of being a piece of fresh, provocative theatre. It’s brilliantly designed: sharp lighting and clever set design both conceal characters and illuminate them, representing the play’s main theme of deception very easily indeed.
There are also some top-drawer performances from Nadia Albina and Sergo Vares, who stand out as Monty and Franco respectively. There’s also a notably charismatic and energised performance from Steven Webb, who played Ludo (and a postman in Streetcar a few nights ago). It’s very interesting to see the same actors playing completely different characters in such a short space of time, and demonstrates how chameleon-like Secret Theatre is, leaving you wondering about what it’s going to be doing next.
Despite its one flaw, that being its thick plot that takes a bit of getting in to, Glitterland is a powerful and provocative piece of theatre that has you questioning exactly what does go on behind closed doors, both behind those of the government and behind those of the individual. It’s fresh, gripping and, most importantly, relevant.
Glitterland was at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 20 September, and is currently touring the UK. For more information and tickets, visit the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.