TEENAGE KICKS AND SORROWS
In the most genuinely engaging sequences of this odd improv-based show, two of the ten-strong cast get a mat out and wrestle, struggling to rip off one another’s clothes and shoes in play-fight frenzy. Before each assault they gasp out the names of their fears: “Drowning” “Not being with people I love” “Syphilis” “Finding out I -um -haven’t got two eyes” “Buried alive” “Rottweilers” “Dying alone” “Being cheated on”, etc.
So picking up the disjointed, energetic argot let’s say that the show expresses the following: “Youthful” “Communal” “Baffled by life” “Adolescent” “Longing for love” “Larky” “Frustrated” “Spontaneous” . And, I fear, overarching it all, “Drama School Exercises”.
Which is not to deny that it can be fun, for a while, watching selfconsciously expressive, vaguely linked improv sequences performed by young people in random gym gear, expressing meanings which touch them without ordering them into something more traditionally theatrical. And around me there was laughter and applause and approval from an audience of twentysomethings or not much over. Sean Holmes’ “Secret Theatre Company” from the Lyric Hammersmith has had a lot of success. But it didn’t ring my bell.
It is framed in the struggle of the title. The audience pulls a name out of a hat, and he or she becomes the protagonist. That night it was Steven Webb – “Stevie”, a likeable, skinny blond who at three points – the opening, middle and end – silently attempts a series of notorious impossibilities of the kind teenagers challenge one another to in the schoolyard: bending an iron bar, fitting in a suitcase, vaulting a high broomhandle, moving a heavy tyre with his mind, eating a whole lemon, licking his elbow. He fails. Except at the very end, when he manages a couple when the whole ensemble helps him. That is oddly touching.
In between there are the wrestling matches, and a series of courtships between him and three girls, consummated in one case in an irritatingly crypto-acrobatic metaphorical sequence amid neon tubes. She dances, he lies at her feet and gets into La-Soiree style acrobatic poses so that you hope they’ll do a balancing act, but it never happens. Rather better is a sequence which takes a whole relationship from start to finish in a series of questions the girl reads from a paper; and another, actually funny, where the tallest, broadest member (Hammed Animashaun) acts like a relationship counsellor undermining Stevie with another fusillade of questions. The final courtship, after some fierce wrestling, took them abruptly into Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene, which they did remarkably well. But it made me wish they’d done some real acting earlier.
So no, not for me. But others have rated their 70-minute performance engrossing, moving, lovable, meaningful, all that. The talent and desire to push theatrical boundaries is not in doubt. But I couldn’t feel they were pushing them anywhere very interesting.