Thought-provoking dialogue ensures a complex philosophical narrative in Alexander Matthews’ Screaming Secrets. It’s just a shame the same attention to detail wasn’t given to his characters.
A play about philosophy, written by an ex-teacher of philosophy and with a central character discussing Faust, Nietzche, and the fragility of mankind’s mortality; I don’t think I can bring myself to call Screaming Secrets the most accessible of 2018 theatre offerings. However, whilst some of the dialogue and subtle in-jokes would fly over the head of someone without at least a bachelors degree in the subject, this play did strike chords with the audience and most definitely had its moments of clarity.
Monika (Triana Terry) throws her boyfriend, Antonio (Jack Gordon), a birthday party. It is in this setting that his best friend Simon (Ben Warwick) reveals some news that makes Antonio reassess the way he looks at life and, importantly, death. Also in attendance at the party are an irascible father (Jack Klaff), dramatic sister (Ilaria Ambrogi), and drunken publisher ex-boyfriend of Monkia’s (Theo Devaney). Needless to say, there’s a lot going on. The pace of action and complexity of dialogue throughout the play mirrors the philosophical meanderings of the main character’s thoughts in a way that makes you feel you are inside his head; even when it may not be a comfortable place to be.
The frantic nature of the show did feel, at times, a distraction from the more poignant moments. The relationship, for example, between Antonio and his friend Simon (a star performance given by Warwick) was touching and the chemistry between the two characters was moving; solidified by the backstory of their friendship which was carefully woven into the dialogue and plotline near the beginning. This was a chemistry and backstory, however, that was lost in almost all of the other characters – and meant that, for example, the audience never believed the love of Antonio and Monika as we did the friendship of Antonio and Simon.
Backstories such as that was lost because of the clutter of characters involved in this tale. This was no more evident than in an unnecessary sub-plot, involving the arrival of Antonio’s father and sister. Both Klaff and Ambrogi gave great performances, but the over-the-top writing for these parts meant that the audience couldn’t wait for those characters to leave so the story could move on.
By trimming away characters and plot lines (and out of the blue song breaks?) that added very little to Screaming Secrets for me, Matthews could use his 90 minutes to focus in on how the twists and turns of this narrative affect the relationships that his complex philosophical dialogue is really trying to get at.