Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Theatre review: The Secret Agent

Another of those weeks that unintentionally ends up with a theme, this one features a whole batch of shows with "Secret" in the title. Next up for me is The Secret Agent, theatre O's painfully uninspired take on Joseph Conrad's novel of anarchy and bungled terrorism. Having been on the payroll of the Russian Embassy for some years, Verloc (George Potts) is horrified to find himself actually called on to do something for it, namely blow up Greenwich Observatory in an attack on time itself. Soon the remains of a man are found scattered around Greenwich Park following a malfunction with the bomb, but are they Verloc's or did he persuade someone else to do his dirty work for him? With their faces painted in white clown makeup, the cast open the show in tableau before exploding out in slow motion. Yes, it's that kind of show.

Adapted by director Joseph Alford and the cast (a writer, Matthew Hurt, is also credited) the story is told through a mish-mash of styles that never find a comfortable overall tone, and throw in bits of expressionistic movement and dance, half-hearted projections and frantic mugging. The show premiered in Edinburgh, where it must surely have felt even more as if it had collected clichés from every fringe show around it and ticked them all off.

Leander Deeny comes closest to injecting some personality into the piece as the insane Russian spymaster Vladimir, but even in this attempt at a comic scene things like unexpectedly inserting the word "cunt" into the dialogue or some half-baked audience participation smack of desperation. The comic scenes were met with eerie silence by tonight's audience; the dramatic ones were interminably dull; and no attempt is made to balance out the different tones, the play simply lurching from comedy to tragedy. The storytelling is also weak, with major plot points lacking any punctuation. The story might be about trying to destroy time itself, but this adaptation just makes it drag out to seem much longer than 85 minutes.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Alford, Matthew Hurt, Carolina Valdés, Leander Deeny, Dennis Herdman, Helena Lymbery and George Potts, inspired by the novel by Joseph Conrad, is booking until the 21st of September at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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