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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Secret Agent
Young Vic Theatre Autumn 2013

This production by Theatre O is full – perhaps overfull – of theatrical imagination, but somewhat less rich in focus and control. Every scene is in a different theatrical style, and after a while you will stop paying attention to the plot and just wait to see what they're going to do next. 

Almost every sequence – there are a few dull ones – is inventive, funny, lovely or some combination of these, but no two sequences seem to be in the same show. The overall impression is of an extended audition piece more interested in demonstrating the company's versatility than in either serving the text or creating and sustaining a coherent work of theatre. 

The novel by Joseph Conrad (whose name appears nowhere in the programme) has been adapted by Matthew Hurt and the company to keep the basic plot intact – Verloc, a nonentity, is a member of a toothless anarchist cell but also spying on them for a foreign embassy, who order him to push them to setting off a bomb, the better to rouse public reaction against them. The bomb goes off at the wrong moment, with tragic effect. 

The opening scene, of Verloc at home, is tightly choreographed light comedy, complete with the clockwork moving of props and an interfering mother-in-law. Verloc's meeting with his foreign control is broad farce, with the control as mad as a hatter and flaming camp to boot. 

The mentally-challenged younger brother of Mrs. Verloc gets a long, serious, intelligent speech of socio-economic analysis, the bomb-maker is a stock Mysterious Foreign Man and Mrs. Verloc's discovery of her husband's crime and its price is a quite lovely short ballet. 

In between, set changes are effected by the cast in admirable close-order choreography, while a couple of scenes are punctuated by banjo-accompanied singing of 'Blue Moon' and 'I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire'. 

That virtually none of this has anything to do with The Secret Agent is a minor complaint. That virtually none if it has anything to do with any of the rest of it is more troublesome. 

Theatre O are clearly very imaginative and very skilled at creating entertaining moments. But an evening of theatre, particularly one that sets out to interpret a text, really should be more than a string of disconnected moments.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Secret Agent - Young Vic 2013

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