Mike Brooks as murder suspect Dr Lassister. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
It’s not difficult to imagine why Tai Kwun makes such a great location for staging crime thrillers. The sturdy colonial-era architecture of the compound, which served as an integrated hub of justice from 1864 to 1979, still conjures up images of a powerful, unsparing legal system.
Now showing at the revitalized Centre for Heritage and Arts, Secret Theatre by the UK’s Secret Theatre Project is an immersive production that follows the fictional trial of a man accused of serial murders. Like Please, Continue (Hamlet), which was produced by Switzerland’s Dreams Come True and staged at Tai Kwun this past July and August, Secret Theatre is duly aided by the site’s history as a seat of justice, which makes the reconstruction of imaginary crime scenes more believable.
The two productions follow a similar format. While in Please, Continue (Hamlet), audiences are shown close-up shots of a simulated murder on a screen and handed mocked-up testimonies recorded ostensibly by the police, Secret Theatre makes a more elaborate spectacle of a murder case.
Secret Theatre director Richard Crawford. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
The show begins with a gourmet dinner (optional), followed by a tour of the crime scene, led by a detective chief inspector (Rob Archibald) and forensic expert (Reggie Yip). Before the trial commences, audiences get to mingle with witnesses and visit the suspect — known offender and psychopath, Dr Clarence Lassister (Mike Brooks channeling Dr Hannibal Lecter from the 1991 neo-noir thriller, Silence of the Lambs).
The ultimate high is of course being invited to sit on the jury. What could be more flattering than being asked to decide the fate of an under-trial — and the ending of the play as a consequence?
By inviting audience members to cast their votes, both Please, Continue (Hamlet) and Secret Theatre make a direct pitch to massage the viewers’ egos. Interestingly, Secret Theatre also satirizes its own attempts at merchandizing a trial by framing it as part of a reality TV show.
A dish served by Aaharn at the pre-show dinner. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
A well-stocked bar serves the audience during breaks. The camera crew roams freely, getting uncomfortably close to the accused and key witnesses at times. Secret Theatre artistic director Richard Crawford himself appears as the loud TV host in a flashy jacket, playing to the galleries — underscoring the irony in trying to spoof the packaging of news as a consumer product.
The farcical nature of a trial where a ticket-buying audience has the power to adjudicate is called out by a journalist (Daniel Cheng) pursuing the case. His tirade against the system is cut short when he gets thrown out for contempt of court.
The production goes slightly overboard with the gore-fest toward the end, with too many plot twists taking place in the final 15 minutes of a show that lasts four hours if you count the dinner. By the time the last of these is revealed, the audiences seem to have had their fill of murder and mayhem and are ready to call it a day. It’s a case of high-voltage drama culminating in an overkill, quite literally.
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