The Alexander Matthews Season
Tristan Bates Theatre
It's been said before but parties really do make great settings for dramas.
The context is loaded with the expectations and tensions that surround forced social gatherings and adding enough alcohol and/or drugs to loosen tongues and diminish inhibitions set the sparks flying.
In Alexander Matthews‘s Screaming Secrets, the party has been organised by the young and beautiful Moni for her partner Antonio, a philosopher writing a book that does not yet have a publisher.
It is difficult to understand what the selfless Moni sees in this pompous jackass—he won't wear his birthday present jacket for the party on the grounds that it is "too iconoclastic", he wont get married because “marriage takes our desire for life away… it turns us into zombies”.
At the party are Antonio's friend from university, Simon, a lively philosophy student turned doctor, with whom he exchanges philosophy jokes and don impersonations, and Antonio's father and sister, Alessandro and Gina.
They are just arrived from Italy, where the family business has been dumping radioactive effluent into the local river since Antonio was a child.
The region's resulting leukaemia clusters are being looked into by Simon who inadvertently lets on that Antonio is seriously ill. Not your usual party banter, but then most parties are not punctuated by episodes of philosophical posturing either.
The final guest is Hugo, a foppish publisher bearing a large advance on Moni's first book and a similarly sizable interest in getting into her underwear.
Hugo isn't the only one with an agenda. Alessandro, who doesn't understand or respect what Antonio does, wants his son to take over the family company but his plan is scuppered by Gina who announces that the business is going bust and Antonio is being set up by his own father.
Gina's motive for exposing Alessandro's scheme is born of a mutual loathing, and Alessandro and Gina lay into each other like loud, inebriated Italians are wont; it wasn’t clear what the point was of their increasingly drunken and incoherent ranting except an exercise in showing off smart rebuttals.
As the party continues, Simon tries to reach Antonio as he processes the news of his illness. "Altruism is the only way to deal with your circumstances" he urges, but Antonio breaks off his relationship with Moni without explanation in order to have "psychological space" and it is Simon who rescues the situation out of his altruism.
Screaming Secrets is a mixed bag. There are some powerful scenes and the themes of needing to be loved and understood and how we face our own mortality are timeless, but they get bogged down in too much polemic and not enough reality.
The philosophical homilies might have been engaging had I been able to follow at least some, but I couldn’t and by the third reference to solipsism, the line to pretension had been crossed and I was left hoping for some plot.
There are fine performances from Ilaria Ambrogi as Gina, Ben Warwick as Simon and Jack Klaff who stepped in as Alessandro when Gregory Cox was taken ill, but even these are not enough to get to the heart of a play that may appeal only to students of philosophy.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti