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Secret Life of Humans

by on 12 October 2021

Treasure Trove

Secret Life of Humans

by David Byrne

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 16th October

Review by Nick Swyft

What would one expect to find in the secret locked room of one of the world’s leading intellectuals?  What could Jacob Bronowski (call me ‘Bruno’, everyone does!), writer of The Ascent of Man, possibly have to hide from the world?  A corpse, or some plundered work of art, or even his porn stash?   No.  The answer was far worse.

The plot of Secret Life of Humans revolves around Bronowski’s grandson Jamie (Katie Moreton), meeting Ava (Lara Collins), on a chance Tinder date.  Ava has spent her life studying Bronowski, and becomes drawn to the boy when she finds out who he is.  They end up going to the family home, where she learns of this secret room.  Jamie doesn’t seem particularly interested in talking about his grandfather, more in getting into bed with Ava.  She, however, is about to lose her job and career, and needs the sexual distraction he provides.  The secret they discover distresses Jamie, since he always believed his grandfather was a good man.  For Ava, however, it provides her with what she needs to salvage her career. Katie Moreton’s ‘breeches role’ portrayal of the male character Jamie is noteworthy, as her portrayal of a testosterone-riddled lad is very convincing. 

The plot is overlaid with manifestations of Bronowski’s ghost (John R.  Goodman), voicing the great man’s thoughts, together with dialogues with his friend George (Eli Taryn) and documentary clips featuring ‘Bruno’ himself.  For those who only vaguely know of Bronowski’s work, this provided valuable background and Goodman portrayed the great man very convincingly.

His wife Rita (Emma Sterry) also gave us an insight into ‘Bruno’ the man, never quite getting an adequate answer as to whether or not he loved her, but nevertheless fairly comfortable with that.  She had, of course, been into the secret room, having agonised about it for almost an hour after his funeral – it didn’t take long for her curiosity to get the better of whatever respect she had for her dead husband.  We were not told if she found the secret Jamie and Ava did, but if she had, she wasn’t the sort of woman who would have worried about it.

All these things are brought together to parallel the conflict that now exists between Jamie and Ava, and the way mankind is evolving to resolve such conflicts by moving apart rather than sticking together.

This was the first performance given at the Progress Theatre since February 2020, and it is good to see them back.  This is one of the leading theatre venues in Reading and was where Kenneth Branagh cut his teeth.  Secret Life of Humans revitalises that renown in an impressive return to the arts in Reading.

Nick Swyft, October 2021

Photography by Richard Brown

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