Eclectic Glasgow-based rookies Blood of the Young’s latest show gives Scottish Theatre’s endless regurgitating of contemporary (and not so contemporary) classics a screamingly hilarious kick in the testes.
With Secret Show 1, BOTY are borrowing the mystery-shrouded template pioneered by the Lyric Hammersmith in their fantastically successful 2013/14 season. Turns out, it’s the ideal platform for the Company’s particular brand of home-brewed anarchy, gloriously talented performers and, above all, their extreme appreciation for theatre as entertainment: genuine, side-splitting, worth-missing-telly-for, great night out entertainment. I’m not going to ruin the surprise by naming the text they’re working from, but suffice to say, in an easy straight-through hour and forty, Secret Show 1 is an unpretentious, accessible, genuinely joyous communal theatre experience.
As the Company were keen to remind us, the show was rehearsed in just one week – which seems to only have concentrated their creativity. The performers themselves are fearless, the rawness of their performances fantastically engaging. Leading the cast, Meghan Tyler continues to prove herself one of Scotland’s most magnetic and versatile young actors. Toni Burgess and Matthew Seager are wholly convincing lovers, breaking into song as Duncan Harte’s atmospheric guitar – channelling Chris Isaak – compels them. Beside him on the drums, David Rankine is a savage and oddly affecting antihero. The ensemble put in giddy comedy performances aided by water pistols, snap bangers, fairy lights and cans of Tennents, and it might all descend into chaos if it weren’t for Paul Brotherston’s tight direction and near faultless emotional pacing.
Following their collaboration with Scots songsters Golden Arm in Golden Arm Theatre Project, live music continues to be an essential component of BOTY shows, and here guitar and drums don’t just create atmosphere and conjure characters. The instruments also serve as a clever interpretation of some of the play’s weightier concepts of imprisonment and manipulation. The in-the-round staging in the Tron’s intimate Victorian Bar involves the audience in the theatrical conspiracy, creating an overwhelming feeling of warmth, cooperation and community – amplified by the characters often directing their lines to the audience or asking for their help in some lighting effects, absolutely without pretension. Design is cheeringly tongue-in-cheek. Lighting and practical effects are minimal, rough-hewn and effective.
It’s not all perfect. While the occasional line-slips are definitely part of the fun, a few performances are overdone and one-dimensional, and some characters could easily have been cut from this quick-as-a-flash reworking to create a more coherent narrative.
But the thing is, Secret Show 1 was the most entertaining piece of theatre I’ve seen this year. In the rush to combat constant budget-cuts and guarantee bums-on-seats with safe sellers, it is unbelievably refreshing and heartening to remember theatre – like all artforms – is the best way we have of creating safe spaces and imagining different worlds. And if there was ever a week we need to remember that, it’s this week. Theatre needs to keep experimenting, changing, pushing boundaries and doing new things in response to the world we live in, and in this game BOTY are steaming ahead.
Secret Show 1 is on at 12th November 2016 at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Click here for more details.