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General Secretary at Soho Theatre | Review

With the unfortunate cancellation of this year’s Vault Festival, the Soho Theatre’s ‘Soho Rising’ festival plays an even bigger role in showcasing emerging talent at the beginning of 2022 as live performance is still finding its feet. Writing and performing team Cassie Symes and Georgina Thomas have created General Secretary – a funny, but not hilarious, exploration of the complexity of world problems through the lenses of different genders which they enact with screwball pace, polished staging and classic fringe energy.

General Secretary - Credit The Other Richard.
General Secretary – Credit The Other Richard.

The writing team set off on a ‘Freaky Friday’ type premise of going from being disempowered young women in a man’s world to having literally all the power in the world as joint Secretaries-General of the United Nations (but with power to impose global legislation) along with another fictional position of world authority. The ‘what if?’ jumping-off point has comic potential, but it seems as if Symes and Thomas are conflicted about whether they want their characters to be plucky conquerors of role-reversal (a la Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl) or if they are seeking to satirise the popularist penchant for amateurs who ultimately create mayhem due to their naivete and disregard for expertise (a la Meryl Streep in Don’t Look Up or pretty much every day for the last six years).

The team’s wordplay is strong with lively running gags of name mix-ups and well-timed puns (they deliver their ‘Femifesto’ for change.). When the pair, dealing with the calamity that they’ve inadvertently set off due to simplistic approaches to complex problems, land on a bonkers-but-brilliant new idea of taxing unreciprocated orgasm (one of the few things that greedy global titans can’t move to another planet to avoid taxation) they debate the choice with a throwaway acknowledgement that such a move is ‘fascist in a funny way’. This is when Symes and Thomas are at their strongest: when they’re self-aware. However, by casting themselves much of the time as naïve dingbats who make matters worse, they have to continue with ever-deepening foolishness for the comic conceit to progress. Thus, the characterisation doesn’t really satirise anything except a couple of young women who got out of their lane – and I don’t think that’s really the point they are trying to make.

However, Soho Rising is about rising talent and there is no question that Symes and Thomas are talent with significant potential to rise. This is a fringe production with much to recommend it, but it needs tightening up. The duo’s pseudo-Eurovision finale number is scorchingly funny. In this moment they manage to occupy farcical characters whilst subjecting masculinised geo-political habits to laser-sharp ridicule. Their observational comedy is also strong, when they point out that it is possible to have two women on the news and it doesn’t need to be ‘the women news’. The least represented voice in this show is the authors’ own: smart, stinging and accurate. It may be that they need to evolve one of the characters into more of a straight woman to contrast the ludicrousness of the other or perhaps they need to allow the editorial voice that comments on all the silliness and absurdity (as they do in the final song) more exposure, but General Secretary needs more acid in its sauce to avoid being a meringue. I suspect the writing team are up to the task, however, and will keep an eye out for future iterations.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

General Secretary tackles the desire for power through a female lens. Cassie and Georgie are just two insignificant individuals until they are landed with the minor responsibility of taking over the world. From taking minutes to taking charge, they must find creative solutions for the biggest global issues. But do they have what it takes to handle this almighty responsibility?

General Secretary
A satirically comic journey through power and diplomacy as two highly unqualified women are suddenly landed in charge.

Company information
Written, directed and edited by Thick ‘n’ Fast
Created in association with Applecart Arts

Cast
Cassie Symes and Georgina Thomas
Listings information
1 February 2022
Soho Theatre, Soho Upstairs, 21 Dean St, London W1D 3NE
https://sohotheatre.com/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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