The Secret Keeper – review

This review first appeared in British Theatre Guide

ClerkinWorks and Ovalhouse present
The Secret Keeper
by Angela Clerking
directed by Angela Clerking and Lucy J Skilbeck
Curve Theatre, Leicester

ClerkinWorks and Ovalhouse’s production The Secret Keeper takes the homespun advice of “a problem shared is a problem halved” to a new dimension: share a secret and you will be totally free of your terrible burden, providing your confidant keeps mum.

Written by Angela Clerkin, The Secret Keeper is billed as a “political fairytale for adults with songs, magpies and a murderous gothic heart”.

There are indeed a handful of songs and a murder of magpies, however, the murderous gothic heart needs coaxing out.

The Good Daughter’s father, the Dolls House Maker, has suffered with a terrible melancholy ever since the murder of his brother nine years before. To make her father happy, The Good Daughter listens to his darkest secret and vows never to tell a living soul. The relief of passing his secret to another causes him to encourage first his wife, then the rest of the village to unburden themselves to his daughter (now wearing her official Secret Keeper outfit of hooded, lamé cloak and giant ears).

Suffice to say, the weight of the village’s secrets make her unwell and The Good Daughter frees herself of her own burden by revealing all. Revenge is swift and conclusive.

Performances from the four-strong cast playing many roles are excellent, with Niall Ashdown and Anne Odeke perfect as the conniving parents and Hazel Maycock’s hapless Chemist and imperious King’s Right Hand Man are amusing. Clerkin is an amiable narrator and plays The Good Daughter deadpan.

Some nice macabre touches include a severed doll announcing the scene changes and Colin Grenfell’s lighting design adds to the mood. In the second act, apart from an effective opening scene (a trade union meeting of crows verging on Pythonesque absurdity), the stark lighting prevalent has the effect of dispelling the magic. In contrast, act one’s darkness pierced by beams and starry sky really add to the fairytale aspect.

The piece as a whole seems unsure of exactly which style to stick with; the humour is knowing and savvy, although there are times when it relies on out-of-place expletives. The darker moments work well, particularly the mysterious ending, but there are too few of them.

Although “other-worldy”, there are many topical issues which are touched on but, frustratingly, skirt around rather than confront, not least the consequences of the transference of guilt and public outing of information that is not yours to divulge. In 2017, we’re up to our retinas in secrets, with data protection and privacy, leaks and fake news and the differing fortunes of whistleblowers, yet the hints at this are unsatisfying.

A quirky, creative piece which grazes rather than feeds on a topical subject.

Images by Sheila Burnett

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