THE SECRET AGENT
by Joseph Conrad created by Theatre O and Matthew Hurt.
Tour to 26 October 2013.
Runs 1hr 25mins No interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 9 Septembert.
Lithe and forceful.
Theatre O’s The Secret Agent is a far cry from the Joseph Conrad novel. Slimmed down, it stays true to its original, exuding terror, mystery and violence whilst heightening its modern implications. And indeed, if there was ever a work that speaks to our age of paranoia, conspiracy, fundamentalism and political violence, it is this dark, cynical tale.
Sometimes recalling Buchner’s Woyzeck – the tale of the little man hounded to death and murder – at others Beckett and Pinter in its absurdism and psychological brutality, Theatre O and Matthew Hurt have found a powerful modern application by a multiplicity of means and a fascinating back-to-the-future style incorporating expressionism, music hall, puppetry and an intense Complicite-like physicality as an overall visual concept.
It works remarkably, shudderingly well. Conrad’s tale of espionage, domestic abuse, passion and betrayal, conceived at a time (late 19th century, early 20th century) when London was awash with fear of anarchy and `foreign’ threats – in 1894, a French anarchist had even accidentally blown himself up in Greenwich Park – Hurt and Theatre O make their Secret Agent both a profound portrait of the absurdism of violent political ideology and an indictment of the passivity of `the silent majority’ and the mediocrity of non-action.
Five whey-faced performers cover a multitude of characters, with George Potts a telling, weak apparatchik as the agent provocateur, Verloc, spying for the Russian Embassy and the British police, and Carolina Valdés as Winnie his put upon wife.
Valdés has an extraordinary moment towards the end when in an anguish of distress – and confirming the huge influence mime and movement teacher Jacques Lecoq plays in the company’s aesthetic – her body becomes a silent automaton, rigid with trauma.
Leander Deeny, too, as Vladimir, the Russian embassy official `controlling’ Verloc (he also doubles brilliantly as Winnie’s stammering brother, Stevie,) produces a terrifying Kafkaesque study in political double-speak and irrationality.
But this is, in every sense, a collective effort. Lighting, sound and even ironical audience participation ensure we are truly `all in this together’. A salutary but uniquely and terrifically theatrical metaphor for our time.
Cast: Leander Deeny, Dennis Hardman, Helena Lymbery, George Potts, Carolina Valdés
Director: Joseph Alford.
Designer: Simon Daw.
Lighting: Anna Watson.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Composer: Marc Teitler.
Video: Simon Daw, Paddy Molloy.
Illustration: Paddy Molloy.
Choreographer: Eva Vilamitjana.
Assistant director: Jemima James.
4-21 September Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.45pm Young Vic London 020 7922 2922 www.youngvic.org
24-28 Sept 7.45pm Mat Thu 2pm West Yorkshire Playhouse (Courtyard Theatre) Leeds 0113 213 7700 www.wyp.org.uk
8-12 Oct 7.45pm Warwick Arts Centre Coventry 024 7652 4524 www.warwickartscentre.co.uk
16-18 Oct Wed, Fri, Sat 8pm Thu 6pm Mat Sat 2pm Northern Stage Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0191 230 5151 www.northernstage.co.uk
22-26 Oct 7.45pm Theatre Royal Plymouth (Drum) 01752 267222 www.theatreroyal.com
First performance at the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 6 August 2013.