Secret Theatre London is an exciting new company which doesn’t disclose the title of the show, names of the actors or production team or even the venue when audience members buy tickets, meaning that the audience enter the theatre with no real idea of what to expect from their evening. However in their latest production, what could have been a really exciting theatrical experience – an unnamed Tarantino movie presented on the stage – is disappointingly and ineffectively conveyed.
Tarantino is of course well-known for his heightened aestheticisation of violent content; his best-loved work is often shocking and bloody in excess. However from very early on it was clear that rendering Tarantino-style violence on a small stage would prove an impossible task for the company. Death is a big part of the show, and all of it should be bloody and messy. Unfortunately none of it is quite grisly enough, and most of the show is blood-free. Where blood is present in the play, it is not used particularly well: one character has blood just below his hairline but not in his hair, which struck me as a little strange; another character who begins the play already wounded has nothing to signify the wound at all, just a small mess of blood on his shirt. Stage combat is also awkward and painfully unrealistic: in the small space it is obvious that no blows connected, and slaps and punches are dealt weakly and without commitment to the movements. Considering that Tarantino is known for being violent, it was quite surprising to see violence dealt with so badly.
It’s not really feasible to attempt to render an exact replica of an iconic film on stage – this much is clear. We would therefore expect the director to take some liberties with the way scenes are set, changing some locations and stories to ensure they work in the new medium. However in this respect I would criticise the play for following the original model of the film too closely. Flashbacks and cutaways frequently don’t work as they are blocked very statically in an odd space, meaning that although they are certainly true to the original, they lack dynamism. It is also very easy for a film to focus its audience on specific moments or images through framing and camera angles, whereas this direction and blocking didn’t properly focus my attention on the most important moments – rather I was attempting to take in everything on stage at once, and didn’t quite know where to look.
There are also a lot of strange acting decisions, I think made both by performers and by directors. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether or not the audience are being acknowledged; it would have made sense for Kevin Kinson’s character to acknowledge us and the rest to act more naturalistically, but we are also briefly referred to by Stanley J. Browne, Sven Anger and Andrew Lancaster in the middle of otherwise relatively naturalistic scenes. Equally, it feels as if no-one quite knows whether or not they are supposed to be playing naturalistically. Alexander Gordon-Wood in particular exaggerates his physicality far beyond any of the other actors’, and at some points it seems as if he wants to put a new gesture to every word, whereas others such as Lancaster are more understated. It is the subtle, more natural performances that shine in this production, and Lancaster has some particularly strong moments in both acts that hold scenes together. Browne and Harry Kerr are also strong at times, but grow into their characters as the play progresses rather than being strong throughout.
Secret Theatre has so much potential for greatness and is a very exciting concept, despite the play not having been up to scratch in this case. Attending the theatre with no prejudgements about the play is very useful as it lets the drama do all the work, and I would definitely encourage theatre fans to see other Secret Theatre shows – just not this one.
Secret Theatre (Tarantino Movie) is playing in a secret location until 30 November. For more information and tickets, see the Secret Theatre London website.