Show 6 is Secret Theatre’s latest production of Mark Ravenhill’s new script. It follows the life of a boy, the son of rich parents, who accidentally discovers that he is adopted,and that his natural parents were leftist activists fighting for the liberation of the workers. He forms a group with two friends who also discover they were adopted and together they go on a quest to find out the truth about their births, their parents and to exact revenge.
Structurally the play mirrors Sophocles’s Oedipus the King
At the heart of this play is the question of storytelling - the reliability and truthfulness of stories. Stories are passed on from person to person like Chinese whispers; the boy’s desperate soliciting prompts his adoptive mother, his friends, and an old man in an asylum to remember forgotten stories from their pasts. It becomes increasingly unclear if the narrative the boy pieces together is genuinely the truth, or a delusion he falls into. Does he truly come from a tragic birth, or is he simply a bored rich child driven by upper-class guilt into a fantasy of crusading for social justice?
The show is extremely stylised in order to bring this ambiguity to the forefront. The script has left the last word of every line blank and the actors speak the lines with stunted, abrupt utterances. Their physical movements and gestures are twitchy and terse. Speaking to me after the show, the cast described their approach to the lines as being “muscular.” Being stripped of subtext, the lines offer no help for interpretation, and highlight the uncertainty between when words are reporting and when they are inventing.
Structurally the play mirrors Sophocles’s Oedipus the King: the boy and the Theban both wade through layers of narratives searching for the truth. But while Oedipus punishes himself in the end by blinding himself, the boy’s fate is more open-ended; while Oedipus wishes to free himself from seeing the reality, the boy wishes to stop creating it with the stories that he can’t stop telling. Decisively, there is a striking image halfway through the play of mouths being stitched together. There are moments of incest between the boy and his mother, suggesting that he wishes to turn his back to the world through a safe but insulating embrace.
It is a riveting script that demands very tight and technical performance from the players. The actors are excellent and precise: Matti Houghton as the maniacal, deranged mother; Steven Webb as the boy, flustered and impatient to chase the truth; Cara Horgan as the girl, airy and confused, taking the boy’s lead with increasingly wavering conviction. The stage - recently created by Paines Plough theatre company - is a pop-up amphitheatre. The overwhelming lighting gives it an almost garish, futuristic look. I felt somewhat etherised throughout the production. A stunning experience: provocative, gruesome, thrilling.