Sunday 30 October 2016

Mr Naismith's Secret review

Performed inside the historic Gate Lodge at Melbourne Cemetery, TBC Theatre's production of Mr Naismith's Secret is an intriguing and entertaining piece of immersive theatre. Having gathered at Edward Naismith's residence to celebrate his engagement to Jane Adair, it soon becomes apparent that not everyone wishes the couple a happy future with a number of guests and staff within the house having their own schemes and plots to attend to.

We enter the house interacting with the characters, but we are soon ghost-like creatures that are left to wander the rooms and observe interactions and eavesdrop on private conversations. Secret letters are read out and locked rooms are explored in our ignored presence but there are also times when characters stare directly at you as they deliver their lines or perform in a scene. It is somewhat unnerving but works extremely well in heightening the tension of the narrative.

The difficulty with immersive theatre such as this - where you only get to see some of a full story - is ensuring that by the end, your audience has enough information to be able to fill in enough of the empty pieces. Writer H. Clare Callow is aware of this and does a good job of keeping the characters focused on a single narrative and when speaking with other characters, discussing or repeating things that have been mentioned earlier by other character for our benefit. There are a few instances where I felt the language used was not entirely suited to the era and environment we were in, especially when a servant obscenely swears at a man of a higher class than him.

Past experience with immersive theatre has taught me that it is best to stick with roughly three characters and follow them around. In this instance, I was drawn to Trudi Boatwright's portrayal of Agnes, where you're left questioning what her intentions are and whether she has her own nefarious agenda at play. Similarly, Vaughn Rae as the snide Abercrombie brutally masters the death stare and displays his callousness well. Stuart Jeanfield as our host Edward Naismith and Jennie Dibly as Mrs. Cutter the cook (while not directly embroiled in the story itself like the other characters) also deliver some strong and convincing performances.

Much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book,  your choices and the characters you follow determine the story you experience in Mr Naismith's Secret. While the climax of the story does not have as strong an impact as it could, possibly because of the characters I chose to follow, it is still a highly enjoyable piece of theatre that challenges and changes the role of the audience.

Venue: The Gate Lodge, Melbourne General Cemetery, Cnr College Cres & Princes Park Dr, Parkville
Season: until 13 November | Tues - Sat 8pm, Sunday 6pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $28 Conc
Bookings: TBC Theatre

* Original review appeared on TheatrePress on 30 October 2016.

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