Imagine the bone-chilling psychological suspense of Silence of the Lambs crossed with the satire on modern society of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, and you’ll have an idea of what Secret Theatre has planned for its 2019 edition in Hong Kong.
Started in 2008 with a production of Edward Scissorhands in an abandoned factory building in New York, Secret Theatre has shot to success over the years with raved-about shows in some of the most unique locales: Think ‘Freakazoid’ in an asylum in LA, ‘Code 2021’ at a courtroom in London, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a secret island; as well as previous showings in Hong Kong with ‘SE7EN Deadly Sins’, taking place on a doomed speedboat trip to a haunted mansion. Audience members get to take part in the show to determine its ending — guests step up for jury duty, they interview the potential killer, and they inspect the clues.
The global theatrical production is slated to land in Hong Kong from 17 September to 10 November. This year, the show is bringing a serial murderer to Hong Kong, and it’s up to you to find out who is guilty. The location is only too fitting: held in Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station heritage site, also known as a true former prison block. We took a moment to sit down with the Secret Theatre’s director, Richard Crawford, for a sneak preview on what to expect for the upcoming show.
You’ve brought different stories to different cities in the past: Edward Scissorhands in New York, SE7EN Deadly Sins in London and Project Mayhem in Hong Kong. Is Secret Theatre intended to be site-specific, or would it be possible to transplant a production to anywhere in the world?
Secret Theatre is a site-specific company. We want people to experience shows in their natural habitat, away from the traditional theatrical setting. Our new show for example can only exist in certain environments which does make travelling with shows a challenge — and hence, unique.
What’s your creative process in planning storylines? Do you draw directly from the films/novels they are inspired by, and how do you add a unique spin to the live performance?
You need a show that works with an immersive audience, which is not all about storylines. We draw from films, novels and plays, but also from new pieces of theatre written by our team.
Tai Kwun is this year’s Secret Theatre venue in Hong Kong — will its history as a former prison have anything to do with the experience?
Ha! You will have to find out, but we do always utilise the space.
What were some challenges in putting together this year’s show? Any restrictions from working in a historic declared monument?
It has been a challenge as there have been restrictions given the space, but the team at Tai Kwun have been very accommodating. They have supported me in what we need to do for the show, even if it may seem a little crazy at times. We are after all putting our audience face to face with a serial killer at Tai Kwun.
How has the overall culture scene in Hong Kong changed since you were here with Project Mayhem in 2017?
It’s hard to say to be honest. As soon as I hit the ground in Hong Kong I’m normally working every hour on the production and this has been no exception. The political climate has changed and that I feel has had an effect on international productions coming here. From Circo Loco to Matilda, international events are pulling out of Hong Kong which is a real shame. I’m proud to be here right now with the show and feel that more international shows should still come and give back to this amazing city.
What else should audiences look forward to this year for Hong Kong’s Secret Theatre?
We let the cat out of the bag with the location this year and we hope that audiences enjoy the ride at Tai Kwun. We have pushed the boundaries on what we can do with a pre- and post-dinner menu. People can of course just buy a standard ticket, but if they choose to add on food then the menu at Aaharn is excellent.
Buy your ticket to receive the exact address where the show takes place, as well as instructions for the evening and a password — all you need to do is get ready to be immersed into the storyline as the action unfolds.
Secret Theatre 2019 runs from 17 September–9 November, Tuesdays to Saturdays with pre-theatre dinner at 6pm or post-theatre dinner at 9:45pm, both at Aaharn. Tickets from HK$788 from Ticketflap.