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A SECRET LIFE – Theatre503, London.

imagesThere’s been a growing trend for weaving technology into performance, and A Secret Life is no exception. Blending promenade Theatre with smartphone audio (via a pre-downloaded app), Baseless Fabric take us on an amble around Battersea through the eyes and mind of Audrey (Maggie Turner) a widowed seventy-something who has seen many changes over the decades. It starts off charming and perceptive, but with limited scope for growth, it quickly becomes a bit bland.

Based on research done with everyone from baby boomers to millenials, we cover the changing attitudes across the generations to life, love, work – and sex. Audrey reminisces over that deep snow in the winter of 1947, being sent out to play until it got dark, making do, “of course, we never had that when I was young”… until we finally arrive at the station to meet her teenage granddaughter, Ruby (Phoebe McIntosh) all Snapchat, Rhianna and A-Level stress. The gulf between them seems enormous, but we slowly discover how much they have in common.

It’s an interesting topic to cover, but rather than having a narrative, A Secret Life┬áis a gentle stream-of-consciousness mulling over of old memories and present worries, with thoughts triggered by sights, sounds, places and people. While it juxtaposes the past and present with contrast and humour, it feels lacking in structure and momentum. This is not aided by being outdoors for an hour on a rapidly cooling evening.

While it’s debatable whether audio-promenade is the best way to present the material, the timing of soundtrack with visual moments is spot on. The actions, facial expressions and lip-synching by both Turner and McIntosh are excellent. While we may be moving slowly, we always arrive at the exact spot we need to, perfectly in harmony with the audio. There’s also the intrigue of whether the people walking by are innocuously placed cast, or serendipitously apt members of the public.

While the whole thing could do with more pace (and some editing down), the concept itself does have potential. Perhaps with something a little more engaging than absent-minded digressions about how people never post letters anymore, it would hold the audience’s attention for the full duration. It’s very much advisable to wrap up warm, wear comfortable shoes (and for the hay-fever-prone, some antihistamines). But for all its shortcomings, A Secret Life lets you right inside the most intimate thoughts of a person who could very easily pass you on the street…

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Reviewed 13/05/2016

By Gail Bishop

10th May – 15th May 2016
Theatre503, London, SW11 3BW.

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