I’m a planner; I don’t tend to do things without thinking them through. Twice. And that means that any time I go to the theatre, I like to know a few things in advance, like what the play’s about, who’s in it, where it is, that sort of thing. So nobody was more surprised – or anxious – than I was last night, as I found myself crossing the bridge to a secret island in East London (yes, such a thing does exist) to see a play I knew nothing about.
This is the latest production from Secret Studio Labs, who create immersive theatre in unique settings. Their previous offerings have included everything from Reservoir Dogs to Edward Scissorhands, so tonight’s audience had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, as we sat in the bar before the show, trying to identify which customers were actors and which weren’t (not as straightforward as you might think when some audience members have turned up in fancy dress).
Now, this is secret theatre, so I’m not going to be the one to spoil the surprise. But I will say that when we were ushered outside and the play began, I realised it was a story we all knew extremely well – albeit with a unique, East London twist. And I loved it.
This is an absolutely immersive theatre experience; from the moment you step onto the island, you’re in a different world, where everyone’s constantly in character, and the audience are a vital part of the show. Expect plenty of interaction with the cast, even before the play begins, and be ready to jump aside at any given moment, whether it’s to allow an actor to pass or to avoid getting caught up in a shockingly realistic fight scene. With actors and spectators sometimes just inches from each other, it’s an incredibly intimate performance, and there are times when the line between fiction and reality begins to blur.
The play also takes place in multiple locations, making effective use of the space and allowing us a chance to explore this fascinating and slightly surreal area of London. The cast aren’t only there to act, but also to direct us as we’re moved from scene to scene. Indoors, outdoors, up and down stairs; there’s quite a lot of walking, mostly on gravel, so be prepared for a bit of a workout. (Actually, the gravel is a bit unfortunate, because every time anyone moves, whether it’s an actor or an audience member, whatever’s happening ‘on stage’ gets drowned out by the crunch of their footsteps.) Also take note of the warning about wearing sensible shoes – besides the walking, you’ll be standing for most of the evening.
This is a clever and intriguing take on a well-known story, adapted to reflect the personality and culture of East London. It’s at times very funny, and at others really disturbing, with strong performances from a talented cast. The timing seems a little strange, with the second act considerably longer than the first, but this is more of a puzzlement than a problem; it certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment.
Above all, the Secret Theatre is an unusual and memorable experience – and proof, for the planners among us, that sometimes a little mystery can be a good thing.
Guest Review by Liz Dyer @LizziD82 of @Secret_Theatre “Immersive Theatre unusual and memorable” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️