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Published on Wednesday, 14 August 2013

4 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
1-13, 15-25 Aug, 6:40pm-7:45pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

A pleasant-seeming man from the north of England welcomes us into the theatre. And he tells us a secret – a little secret, but a secret nonetheless; an admission of something he’s found himself tempted to do. It’s an engaging start to this extremely professional show, which introduces us to three men and three women who all have something to keep hidden.

After spending so many days watching stripped-back productions in plain black boxes, it’s a pure delight to find a play which retains the traditional trappings of theatre.  There’s a simple but elegant set, which cleverly changes over the course of the hour as we visit the various characters’ homes.  The sound design is excellent too – unobtrusive but atmospheric – and detailed, to the extent that a ringing phone gets louder when a character pulls it from his pocket.

And at its best, the script held me transfixed.  There’s one monologue, telling the story of an unlikely and forbidden romance on a commuter train, that I’d happily have let fill the whole hour; it’s a comedy of manners, a tale of betrayal and a flight of pure fantasy, all rolled into one.  There’s some genuine laugh-aloud funny stuff, as well, particularly around one character’s hapless attempts at dating.  But there were a couple of misses too: one lengthy monologue from an office worker awaiting a pregnancy test seemed to betray a slight lack of confidence, telling us about inner thoughts which I’d worked out long before.

The six characters are mentioned in each other’s stories – in a way which initially seems clanging, but which I later came to welcome and admire.  And eventually, as the play builds towards its climax, they actually start to meet.  Sad to say though, I was a touch disappointed with the ending: I wanted a little more resolution for at least some of the stories, and the crucial secret harboured by the aforementioned nice northern bloke didn’t strike me as quite as terrifying to me as he seemed to imply.

In the end, I felt Hidden lacked a little substance; the theme isn’t strong enough to hold it all together.  But it’s impressively acted by Laura Lindsay and Peter Carruthers – who also devised the script – and its characters have the depth and vulnerability they need to make me care.  Most of all, it’s solidly put together, in the most positive sense of that term.  This play is one secret which shouldn’t be kept hidden.

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