Can I tell you a secret? The Secret Keeper was not at all what I expected.
Like all of the best fairy tales, The Secret Keeper has a thread of darkness woven through it. Angela Clerkin is both the writer and star of the show, playing the eponymous Secret Keeper. She introduces the story in classic fairy tale fashion, telling the audience that this is a story set in a faraway kingdom, so we don’t need to worry that it is anything to do with us and our lives. Of course this couldn’t be further from truth as although the story is a work of fictional it contains numerous references to politics, privacy and morality which seem particularly relevant to the world today
Clerkin’s character The Good Daughter, who later becomes The Secret Keeper, begins by describing the town in which she lives. The staging is very simple, a large box sits centre stage surrounded by smaller boxes, The Good Daughter points inside the large box and describes to the audience what she can see, without the distraction of visual clues the audience’s full attention becomes fixed on what she is saying and although we cannot see the town for ourselves we are quickly transported there. On the surface it seems to be a perfect fairy tale town complete with butcher, baker and inn-keeper’s wife, however it becomes evident that there is darkness concealed within.
The Good Daughter’s home is not a happy one, her father is consumed by melancholy and her suspicious mother is susceptible to terrible rages. For nearly a decade the father has carried a secret, eventually he cannot keep it to himself anymore and he confides in his daughter, after whispering in her ear he feels his guilt disappear and the stars begin to shine more brightly. Niall Ashdown does a wonderful job of portraying this sense of relief and freedom, his stature completely changes and it is as if you can see the weight being lifted from his shoulders. The father wishes to share his miraculous daughter’s gift with the whole town, and so The Good Daughter becomes The Secret Keeper. At first she feels delighted, she has helped her father and he tells her that she is special, she lets this go to her head and sings “It’s all about me”. As the town begins to share their secrets, from the tame to the terrible, The Secret Keeper begins to doubt her role and becomes reluctant to listen to any more confessions. She points out that if by sharing their secrets people are absolved of guilt this leaves them feeling free to commit more crimes, should she keep quiet and listen or does she have a duty to tell the truth?
In the scene “the secrets’ secret meeting” we are taken inside the mind of The Secret Keeper as the secrets discuss what she should do. The meeting descends in to a chaotic cacophony of disagreement, some secrets want to be kept private whilst others beg to be shared, one secret declares “the less I am talked about the more power I have.” This scene brings the story in to the real world context, introducing themes of moral obligation, the bravery of whistleblowing and the right to privacy. Whilst one secret worries about having phones tapped, love letters read and its whereabouts tracked another asks why would anyone care about these things unless they have something to hide? This question makes me think about Edward Snowden’s NSA whistleblowing, Teresa May’s Snoopers Charter and the value of privacy even if you have nothing to hide. Whilst the fairy tales we grew up with as children often have a simple moral message, The Secret Keeper raises more complex questions which will stay with the audience long after they leave the theatre. The show encourages the audience to examine their own views on secret keeping as well as allowing them to share a secret of their own by installing an anonymous secret box outside the entrance.
Clerkin is unafraid to use long silences to build tension and intrigue, at times leaving the audience leaning forward desperate to know the characters’ secret, willing them to speak it out loud. However, The Secret Keeper is not short on comic relief, using witty jokes and quirky songs to break the tension and surprise the audience. I wasn’t anticipating a show about affairs, murder and cover-ups to be so humorous and I was surprised to find myself laughing so often throughout the performance. The Secret Keeper manages to keep its dark subject matter light with moments of genuine humour, creating a truly enjoyable experience which promises to leave the audience asking if knowledge is power who do we want to have this power?