This review does not name the play in Show Two, but it does describe and give suggestions as to the show, which some readers may wish to avoid if they are seeing Show Two.

Show Two Secret Theatre

The woman sitting in front of me gave an audible gasp, lent across to her companions and whispered the play name that marks the second show in the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season. Later another woman some seats away covered her face in a bid to hide the action from her view. It seems that Sean Holmes is doing something right in his radical but distinct remaking of a very well known text in Show Two. It certainly does offer a contrasting direction to the other numerous amount of performances of this classic text.

The most notable variation comes from the stark staging, similar to that of Show One. Designer Hyemi Shin creates a stage space, sheltered on both sides with large white walls, a large white backdrop and the same for the flooring. Contained within these white walls, the ensemble of Secret Theatre cause havoc. Opening with Katherine Pearce appearing over the top of one of the walls and smashing something onto the floor beneath her whilst she screams, any idea that you’ll be seeing a naturalistic representation of a text is dispelled quickly. Whilst Show One offered anarchy, there is much more control and style from Holmes’s direction for Show Two. Every action and moment feels considered, leaving greater room for atmospheric and energy fluctuations that give the audience a more established, and, indeed, traditional, journey through the play.

Nadia Albina leads the cast. Her character grates against you like nails on a blackboard, and often you can’t help but to want to give her a slap and tell her to grow up; we’re not really meant to enjoy her role, it acts as a catalyst for the other characters to explode continuously around her. And explode they do. A controlled and stern (and dare I say it, seductive?) Sergo Vares is the manly rock of Show Two, his stature as the dominant male is defined by his toned abs and his brute force as he cuts water melons (no, this isn’t some strange version of Dirty Dancing) and dishes them out as poker chips. Vares flips tables, staggers drunkenly, abuses the female characters and generally causes chaos. Albina meanwhile, whilst decidedly losing the hinges to her mental framework, trots about the stage space with airs of eloquence. By the end of Show Two she curls up in a corner screaming and raving, like a rabbit in headlights knowing that any minute she’s about to be hit be a truck. An excellent downfall if ever there was one.

Show Two feels richer than Show One, where the aesthetics appear stronger than the actual narration, Show Two gives a fuller and more dynamic narrative to enjoy. Holmes’s direction certainly comes with finer qualities and distinction, giving the ensemble a greater hold upon who they are playing within the crashing and banging of the stage space (which at times feels like it is purposely trying to crash against the performers). There is, however, a quality which I can’t help but feel that Show Two lacks, though, and that is emotional connection. I didn’t care for any of the characters, and at no point did the danger really penetrate beyond the membrane of the fourth wall. It might be a small note to make, but the design of the show interrupts, with all sense of playfulness, and stops any real connection that you would otherwise get from this text in more traditional presentations. It might just be me. The reactions from other audience members would suggest so, but investment into the work before you when watching a show is important.

In Show One I noted that it would be a fascinating experience to watch the development of the ensemble as they took on a number of roles which contrasted against the other roles they would find themselves playing. This certainly feels like the case; there’s a completeness that is encapsulated by the ensemble, a sense of ownership, which Show One lacked.  If this continues to grow across the Secret Theatre season then there’s a chance that we might get the see the fruits of Secret Theatre’s ensemble blossom and influence other theatres to adapt the rep model. Of course, this is all speculation, but Holmes’s commitment to experimentation and attempt to knocking our sense of traditional theatre gives Show Two a distinct level of grounding. It’s not perfect, but it offers a glimpse into the growing potential of this season of work.

Show Two is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 11th October. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.