Jul 31 2013

The dramatic moment

Towards the end of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation (Royal Court/Haggerston, running till 3 August), the drama teacher/life coach Marty asks the four members of her class to write a secret they have never told anyone on a slip of paper. She’ll do the same. They will each then take a random slip from the pile and read it to the group.

It’s a wonderfully economic example of the need to situate drama in the live moment onstage, rather than simply in the stories of the various characters. From the moment the task is set the atmosphere crackles with a sense of possibility, for the characters and the audience alike.

The task draws the audience into the situation. We might ask ourselves: how would I respond? What would my special secret be? Would I dare to write something meaningful or would I play it safe, coming up with some tame, socially acceptable secret?

Engaged in this game the paper slips themselvesĀ become objects charged with meaning, charged with the power to transform the lives onstage. They are no longer just scraps of paper torn from a random sheet. They matter to us now.

And then as the secrets are revealed in turn we learn the limits of anonymity in a group this size. We feel we can trace each secret to its owner with patient deduction. Surely that’s a male secret, that’s a female one? If that’s Theresa’s secret then it can’t be Lauren’s, and so on.

As the group read the secrets aloud we read their faces for clues. We see them reacting and dissembling, trying to work it all out for themselves as the possibilities unfold. We are all engaged in the same action, audience and characters combined in the dramatic moment.

It’s a remarkable scene from a delicately powerful play, with generous performances and the best use of a site-specific location I’ve seen. Catch it if you can by Saturday.