NZ Arts Festival 2008, Odlin Plaza
Feb 22-Mar 16 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Secret feels almost like an anti-circus work – created and performed by Johann Le Guillerm (and his assorted assistants) it is dark and moody, almost hostile. Guillerm never speaks – he hisses like a lizard, twisting and turning his body around a myriad array of objects that he manipulates. Sometimes they co-operate, occasionally they do not and he hisses his displeasure. This is not what you would expect from a circus performance – perhaps this explains why about eight people left on opening night. However, if you discard your expectations in the lengthy queue for door then you will be in for a riveting evening.

Guillerm enters with a whip to the sound of roaring lions and his huge clanking suit of armour shoes. The audience sits on two sides of the stage in a miniature version of a big top tent. The stage is surrounded by a net and is set with four tin buckets of varying size. Guillerm assumes the role of lion tamer – but his “lions” turn out to be rolls of carpet that take on shapes when hit with the whip. The show centres on frustrating the expectations of the audience – Guillerm and his crew will spend a long time setting up what looks like an elaborate trick only to do something entirely unexpected, but no less interesting. Natural elements feature largely in the performance, particularly fire and wood. There aren’t really any smoke and mirrors involved – hence the tricks, which take immense concentration on the part of Guillerm, take some time in the execution. There are occasional moments of humour too, breaking up the intensity that characterises the rest of the show.

I was fascinated by the technical elements of the show – they are incredibly precise and the lights and sound equipment mirror the surreal, carnivalesque elements of the performance. Particularly intriguing were the lights which extended from a concertina like fixture and were manipulated like a marionette by a man who climbed a pole.

Perhaps the people who left on opening night were after more light hearted fare after Friday night drinks. Cirque Ici’s Secret would have disappointed them. However, for those prepared to be a little more open-minded it is a dark challenge to conventional expectations and thrilling to watch a man use little more than his strength and concentration to manipulate objects to his will.