The Secret Agent (2 stars)

This article is from 2013

The Secret Agent

Stephen Cummiskey

Disappointing adaptation of Joseph Conrad classic

There’s a large emphasis on presentation in theatre O’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel. The tale of anarchy, terrorism, disability, exploitation and betrayal – set in the waning years of Queen Victoria’s reign – is introduced via a showman’s ‘Cabinet of Desire’, a sideshow tragedy with looming shadows and grease-painted stagehands. Unfortunately, both of these devices end up stealing the show from the acting and dull script.

The overtly theatrical set-up seems intended to give the players a bit of leeway – if the setting is so obviously constructed, it suggests, you can get away with the broadest possible brushstrokes in the performances. Only the abusive Vladimir (one of several roles fulfilled by Leander Deeny) seems to live up to this pantomime promise, the rest of the cast coming off as either stilted or hammy.

Simon Daw’s stage design is marvellous though, and both Anna Watson’s lighting and Eva Vilamitjana’s choreography deserve special mention, especially in the last act. The real tragedy is that the written adaptation of Conrad’s story isn’t nearly as compelling.

Traverse, 228 1404, until 25 Aug, times vary, £18–£20 (£13–£15).

The Secret Agent

  • 2 stars
  • Written by: Joseph Conrad (book)

Secret terror cells, political conspiracy, police bungling, state-sponsored bomb plots. Music hall and early cinema collide in Theatre O's heartbreaking but hilarious chronicle of passion, betrayal and terrorism inspired by Joseph Conrad's classic novel.