The original approach to story-telling in African British theatre group Tiata Fahodzi’s latest work is immediately alluded to as the audience file into the Old Vic’s studio to the sight of two actors holding Nintendo Wii controllers and ostensibly locked in competition over various sporting battles. A repeating loop of physical movement, joyful smiles and the two characters’ embracing each other paints a picture of happiness, contentment and familial togetherness.
This is further established as the play begins; the two characters’ simple duty of clearing their kitchen table turns into a fun, animated routine and the use of the word “dad” makes clear the nature of their relationship. We soon learn that this single utterance is a rare instance of the play using dialogue and instead it is the use of expression, non-verbal sound, movement and an evocative sound design that tell this story of a family torn asunder by premature death.
Though we hear the off-stage voice of a female character at the beginning of the play, the non-emerging of a matriarchal figure and a sudden change in atmosphere on stage – achieved through the use of darkness, dry ice and the eerie human voice mimicking of a ticking clock – allude to the devastation of loss; this is further tacitly revealed in the father’s anguished looks towards an empty chair, the distressed reaction to hearing an answer phone greeting and the palpably disintegrating relationship between a father and son struggling to cope.
This heart-wrenching fact having been established in the minds of the audience, ‘I Know All The Secrets In My World’ – perhaps in acknowledgement that the effects of stark bereavement are hard to verbalise – uses sound and physicality to spin a powerful exploration of grief. The father, struggling to sleep in a half empty bed, attempts to recapture his wife’s memory by adorning a pillow with one of her T-shirts and perfume; the son, buffered by the playful imagination of childhood, distracts himself with laser gun adventures and comic books. Meanwhile, the soundscapes – consisting of droning sounds and breathy loops of human voice – effectively evoke a sense of dread, torment and a soporific ghostliness in keeping with the father’s insomnia and the play’s latter scenes of hallucination.
The set, consisting of a homely kitchen, doorways leading into bedrooms and a bathroom sink at one end of the stage, works very well. However, though the screens in front of the bedrooms allow for the effective device of action sometimes being viewed in silhouette, there are occasional issues with sight lines and some audience members are required to slightly manoeuvre in order to change vantage point. Solomon Israel and Samuel Nicholas, as a father and son respectively, are both excellent and convincingly embody the tight familial bond that eventually leads to the play’s renewal of hope.
‘I Know All The Secrets in My World’ is an enjoyably piece of theatre that proves, in its original approach, that words are not totally necessary, and possibly problematic, when evoking the most profound of human emotions. While the non-verbal approach is a device with which the play impressively explores the dynamics of family bereavement, it does lend itself to slight repetition and feels as stretched as it can be by the conclusion of its one hour running time. Nevertheless, it’s a unique piece of theatre that explores loss with a delivery both charming and heartfelt.