David Byrne’s Secret Life of Humans combines the overlapping histories of the present, the past and the beginning of time to ask the essential human questions of what is real and what do we believe. Has mankind progressed to such a point where we no longer know if love is a real human feeling or one invented that we have all been coerced into believing in? We’re invited in to the tinder-date-leads-to-one-night-stand of Ava (Stella Blue Taylor) and Jamie (Andrew Strafford-Baker). Unfortunately for Jamie, Ava quickly becomes more interested in his family history than pursuing any sort of relationship.
I’ve been trying to work out what was wrong with this piece; why the pieces which, individually worked within their own medium, failed to join together to make an interesting piece of drama. Jen McGinley’s set design cleverly moves us from restaurant to house to bedroom, through the use of wheeling book shelves which the characters move along with. The passing of time through the tinder date with wine bottles appearing in a flash on the table is brilliant. The actors walk against the back wall, projections cast video and shapes, the underpinning music and sounds are precise, fitting and give the whole show the feel of a history-science documentary.
This is ultimately the major fault. In presenting facts about the past, the whole thing becomes rather explanatory, without any crux of drama. Conflict is minimal and doesn’t seem to develop; the main point of the play is dragged out without any depth. Byrne has chosen what he wants to write about, and has ended up writing something mind-numbingly expositional. It might work in television format, but just doesn’t hold enough dramatic impact for the stage.
The actors are enjoyable enough to watch, and really try to bring some life to the text; a text which is not necessarily badly written, just lacking dramatic zest. There’s then this strange metatheacricality as Ava tells us that we, as an audience, know that Jamie isn’t really asleep; he’s acting, but we choose to believe it. Yet there’s a strange jarring between the metatheatre and the storytelling from the past which doesn’t quite connect the dots. Things don’t seem to string together. There’s a mix of genres and styles which don’t quite work.
We watch a very slow build up of a show; a build up which doesn’t really lead to anything. The text explains ‘the only thing that we have learnt from history is that we do not learn from history’ and touches on the theme of unjustified violence, but ultimately doesn’t turn any of its philosophies into an impacting form of drama.