My husband’s obsession with Joseph Conrad has led me to many a theatrical experience I might otherwise have missed. But the thought of a retelling of his short novel The Secret Agent with updates to make it relevant to today’s terrorist obsessed audience was one which had me standing in line at the Young Vic, nervously hoping for a return ticket to a mid-week matinee.
Well! A good choice this was, except for the giggling teenagers that made up a large percentage of the audience (and did their best to wreck a tragic scene late in the play), with a snappy 1:25 interval-free running time that should make it popular amongst after-work theater goers despite its 7:45 start time. Theater O performed it in an expressionistic style that reminded me of The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari – all angular lines, hyperexpressivity, and madness. The tiny cast moved effortlessly between granny and anarchist, handicapped child and spymaster (although I thought Carolina Valdes, as Winne Verloc, was too heavily accented to be a believable ignorant housewife). The stage was very stripped down, but hey, there was always the audience there to fill out any missing roles (and I was easily bribed by the promise of a malted milk biscuit).
While The Secret Agent seems to be a story about late Victorian paranoia, anarchists, and the mysterious workings of governments told in almost a “everyday guy caught in events out of his control” style, in fact, Theater O make it clear that it’s still 100% relevant to today. We may not walk around in bowler hats and take horse drawn carriages to the almshouses, but we do still live in a world where governments recognize the power of fear to keep the people under control. Does “These cameras are here for your safety and security” ring a bell? And yet, do you really think cameras keep people from attacking you or stealing your wallet? Do videos made in a place where property crime is the only thing that would likely happen do anything to make YOU secure? Or has the language of “protection” become a way for everyone to be made docile?
I found this snappy show quite enjoyable and appreciated the contrast between the unreality of the style and the rather depressing banality of the topic. Sure, the specifics (there are two deaths) are particular to the story … but the universalities are what count. And someone tell the sixth formers to shut up during the death scene. Where are the instruments of the security state when you need them, eh?
(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 18th, 2013. It continues through September 21st.)