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Theatre Review: Secret Lives of Humans @ New Diorama Theatre


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The latest piece of work from the New Diorama Theatre is an examination of what it means to be human.

Set against the back-drop of Jamie’s (Andrew Strafford-Baker) family history, in which Ava (Stella Taylor), a budding anthropologist, interjects herself to reveal long-hidden family secrets, which are then contextualised to the entirety of human history.

Image: David Monteith-Hodge

Richard Delaney’s performance is consistent and fully-realised as Jacob Bronowski – key in shifting time-periods throughout and tying the story together as the ever-present narrator. Across the stage however, each actor appears to be in their own play; there is a distinct lack of relation between characters, and failure to build seemingly sincere connections.

In large part, this stems from the script. The production feels like it has an agenda, which it uses the characters to put forward, however even this is unclear by the end. In doing so, it dilutes the individual voices, and makes the piece feel ‘on schedule’ to distribute the plot, at the sake of character development. Though the text is functional, the revelations throughout are neither surprising nor shocking.

The attempt at Verfremdungseffekt seems confused, as just after turning the house-lights on to distance, they are switched right back off for realistic theatrical action to take place. From this ‘in-between’ place, detached from individual character, the script becomes quite preachy and transparent.

Despite this, the work is cohesive and well-paced – with excellent attention to detail for staging, and transitions. The piece flows beautifully, and clearly, with the space being maximised and tied together through the movement and projection.

Whilst the almost continuous music underneath is effective in heightening particular moments, it comes to be a distraction at times, impeding silence when this could have allowed relationships between characters to form and performances to solidify. Within the subject matter, some things should have been allowed to hang in the air.

As a whole, it comes across rather reductive and problematic to map and dissect human history (conflict in particular), without any intersectionality and through a Western lens. This is not to say that every production has an obligation to discuss a topic in a way that covers all bases; however it becomes ill-considered through the loose equation of western history to human history, without any self-awareness.

Given the Brechtian approach, it is not too much to ask for a note which could have grounded and allowed the piece to make a far more impactful statement than what is left after the 80 minutes. In the context of the current political climate and conversations that are being had, to see a play about what it means to be human through the eyes of white, Western, middle-class, cisgender voices seems short-sighted, especially sans acknowledgement.

In all of this, I can appreciate the optimistic tone of togetherness that the play proposes, however the overlooking of why this is not the case is disappointing. The ground explored in ‘Secret Life of Humans’ is not new, nor tread in a fresh way. Nonetheless, the staging itself is slick and inventive. 

For further information, including tickets, please click here.

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