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‘Secret Life of Humans’ at New Diorama – SEEN reviews

You always know when you’ve seen some excellent theatre – you keep thinking about it on the way home and the next day, and the day after that…

SEEN certainly feels that way about ‘Secret Life of Humans’ currently on at the New Diorama Theatre. I am old enough to have seen the play’s subject Dr Jacob Bronowski on the TV when I was a teenager. I also read his famous book, ‘The Ascent of Man’, at roughly the same time so the play certainly resonated with me – I felt ready to revisit the subject.

The play was devised by the cast, using the known facts about Bronowski and speculating about the more elusive parts of his life. Why did he have a secret alarmed room in his house? The play postulates that his part in creating the firebombs that decimated Dresden and his subsequent guilt may have led to this. The room helped him to compartmentalise his life. What SEEN liked most about it was that it presented Dr Bronowski – ‘call me Bruno – everybody does’ – as a human being in the round. It movingly depicts his fascination with the earliest known human footsteps and his ideas of how beliefs form when we can articulate that which we observe.

There are two stunning pieces of stage action that encapsulate the earliest and the last humans but you won’t find any spoilers here from SEEN. You really have to see it for yourselves. The talented cast negotiated the stage and their roles with choreographed ease, manipulating the bookcases, scenery and themselves smoothly and with grace, reverence even.

It almost felt like meta-theatre as their command and use of language was exactly what Bruno was talking about. Things in the universe come into being as we embody them in language. Use of TV images of Michael Parkinson, and Bertrand Russell counterpointed and underlined the great regard in which Bruno was held in the seventies, a period in which, perhaps, he was able to put his conflicted feelings about the war aside for good, even redeem himself perhaps.

We are not so very different from our earliest ancestors, and the last humans will not be so very different from us. We all ponder the universe and our place in it. What is our purpose? Certainly we are doomed to extinction unless we learn the values of empathy and community. The play seems all the more timely since the bombing of Syria. Can we force countries into democracy and co-operation? Maybe it will take the near-extinction of humans for us to finally learn the answer to that question.

New Diorama Theatre
15 – 16 Triton Street