The Secret Collector

Mon 4th – Thu 7th August 2014

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 09:18 on 5th Aug 2014

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‘The Secret Collector’ is a piece of theatre devised by the young actors art Byteback Theatre Company. It is about the secrets that people strive to conceal; but one boy, Jack, makes it his mission to discover these truths in a play that combines narration, mime, dance and physical theatre.

The structure of the play is intricately bound up with its theme; the revelation of secrets. We witness fragments of conversations that are difficult to follow. Like stealing glimpses of neighbours’ lives from behind the garden fence, the context of each story makes little sense until they are revisited in turn. By Jack’s will, the audience comes to realise these dark truths, but we begin to suspect that the most sinister is Jack’s own after he and his sister take a walk on the beach. While this jumping between the stories of half a dozen households allows for an energetic pace, it does also create the ‘Midsomer Murders’ effect. Murder, lies, theft – how much illegal activity can be going on in one little village, really?

The ensemble is generally strong, and the young cast tackles some serious themes with sensitivity. John the postman is a particularly interesting invention. Amongst the criminals and the abusers in the play, this character offers an under layer of moral complexity. Branded ‘the loner’ by the secret collector, John takes advantage of his convivial relationship with the townspeople to hide the fact that he is stealing their post. Oliver Daley gives a moving portrayal of John, the sad product of neglect. As, with slow and eerie deliberateness, he crosses out the name on a postcard to replace it with his own, Daley invites the audience both to fear him and to pity him. Matthew Warren also gives a good performance as Jack, and Caitlin Rice-Jones stands out as a leading talent in the ensemble, aware of her blocking and expression even when out of the spotlight.

The truth of what happened between Jack and his sister, Charlotte (April Wells), only becomes clear in the final scene, which is a beautiful piece of physical theatre. Wells is lifted into the air by the ensemble. Each time they push her above their heads the room is filled with the sound of struggling breath, and as she disappears into the midst of them, silence presses in on the audience’s ears like water. “I watched her take her last breath, and left.”

‘The Secret Collector’ represents a strong effort by these students to experiment with props, music, and physical theatre. The result is a textured piece of theatre performed by an enthusiastic cast, a number of whom I am sure are just at the beginning of their Edinburgh Fringe career.

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Alex Woolley

at 09:41 on 5th Aug 2014

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At less than forty minutes long, The Secret Collector has to be one of the briefest shows at this year’s Fringe. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty: the overall tone of the piece is reminiscent of dreams, nightmares, and altered states of perception. It is an impressive achievement for Byteback Theatre, whose actors are fifteen to nineteen years old.

The story revolves around Jack, (Matthew Warren), the eponymous collector of the secrets of members of the small-island community he lives in, where everyone, it is often reiterated, is like a big family (this turns out not to be entirely complimentary). The story is also that of Charlotte, his sister, played by April Wells, whom Jack’s misanthropy finally undoes in a carelessly gruesome fashion.

In lighting that tends towards heavy blues and greens, the cast is split in two: there is Jack, wearing blues and browns, and there is an ensemble, in whites and greys, out of whom other characters, including Charlotte, temporarily surface. The only props on stage are bright-red helium balloons. These are used to great effect in the opening sequence, in which the ensemble moves in an almost snake-like manner and focuses its movement around these red balloons. As the play moves to its conclusion, Jack pops every last one – a searing embodiment, perhaps, of the loss the community undergoes.

The acting is of a decidedly good standard. Warren’s snarling, sneering face, coupled with a consistently unsettling tone of voice, is particularly satisfying. Such earthiness contrasts well with the generally hallucinatory mood of the lighting and music. The ensemble acting is smooth and well-coordinated – the ensemble speaking especially so – and there are only occasional lapses in timing and crispness of movement and speech. Great credit must also go to the cast member who has to walk in a medical boot, and whose performance is not sub-standard for it.

The Secret Collector is an impressive production. There is only ever so much that can be achieved in forty minutes, but Byteback Theatre do very well with the short time that they have. The overall aesthetic of the piece is notably consistent, and the ending of the show is surprisingly effective. We can only hope that next year Byteback have a longer slot to perform in; it will be interesting to see if they can sustain such quality in a lengthier production.

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