Screaming Secrets seemed to scream ‘privilege’ more than ‘secrets’, but just because the likes of Antonio (Jack Gordon) have the resources to sit around philosophising to the point where it becomes a central part of their very being, it doesn’t mean life is entirely carefree. Cash cannot buy perfect health, for instance, and it is interesting to note that illness, whether physical and/or psychological in nature can strike the ‘haves’ just as much as the ‘have-nots’.
Civility is in short supply between the six characters, which isn’t a problem as far as an evening at the theatre goes – proceedings would be rather dull if absolutely everyone got on perfectly well with no troubles of any description to report. But this is a bizarre birthday party that Antonio is throwing – with him at home is his partner, Monika (Triana Terry), and his best friend Simon (Ben Warwick), a medical doctor. Fair enough. But then there’s his father Alessandro (Jack Klaff), with whom he is not on the best of terms, and his sister Gina (Ilaria Ambrogi), who has about as much respect for Alessandro as Goneril does for King Lear. Antonio’s family, as the name suggests, is Italian, and very stereotypically so in their mannerisms and expressions. Throw into the mix Hugo (Theo Devaney), a publisher who seems to want Monika as a friend with benefits, openly flirting with her within Antonio’s earshot.
A good number of ingredients, then, for a riveting and explosive, if a tad predictable, play. Except it doesn’t quite work out like that, partly because the party’s mood is repeatedly dampened by numerous forays into philosophical thought. For instance, Antonio holds the belief that ‘freedom’ and ‘determinism’ are not mutually exclusive, and that marriage takes people’s desire for life away (apparently universally), whatever that means. It is as dry and dreary as it sounds, and such heavy use of philosophical terminology seemed inappropriate not only for a birthday party, but for the theatre in general.
The non-conformist minister David Pawson, in his autobiography (or ‘memoirs’, as he prefers to call it), Not As Bad As The Truth, writes about the difference between Anglo-Saxon and Latin English, using the example of Winston Churchill, who “used a vocabulary of 25,000 Latin words to write his books but only 5,000 Anglo-Saxon words in his radio broadcasts”. Pawson was writing about how clergy should prepare sermons, but his point stands. When abstract and refined words intended to be read in books are used in spoken word form – as they are in this production – it is difficult for the audience to remain engaged for very long.
That said, there are stand out performances from Ambrogi as Gina, a character convincingly angry and frustrated, and from Gordon in the lead role of Antonio. The pressure on him is palpable even before the play’s critical incident occurs, and the irony is not lost that he is unable to be philosophical (in the non-academic sense of being stoic and composed) after it does.
There’s little character development, and the ideas, theories and concepts introduced did not seem to have even tenuous links to the lives of any characters, whether on-stage or off, except perhaps to demonstrate Antonio’s descent into psychological paralysis by way of philosophical analysis. The dialogue is carefully constructed to include dramatic irony, and there are moments of comic relief to break up the general atmosphere of despondency. A challenging production in more ways than one.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘Screaming Secrets’ explores our need to be understood and appreciated. It places relationships and moral dilemmas under scrutiny through the power of the writer’s philosophical lens. What do we do when we’re faced with our own mortality? How do we tell our family and friends and what should we do with the time that’s left? These are the questions that face philosopher and free thinker Antonio as he discovers, by accident, at his own birthday party, that he’s not as healthy as he thinks. Surrounded by an irascible father, a dramatic sister, flirty girlfriend, drunken publisher and apologetic doctor, Antonio has to make up his mind rapidly.
Gina Ilaria Ambrogi
Alessandro Jack Klaff
Hugo Theo Devaney
Antonio Jack Gordon
Monika Triana Terry
Simon Ben Warwick
Director Evan Keele
The Alexander Matthews Season
Presents Screaming Secrets
Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP
Wed 31 January – Sat 24 February