By Simon Fearn
It’s pretty safe to say that Battered Soul’s Hidden is currently the most mysterious play in Durham. Cast members are being kept strictly under wraps, and publicity seems to involve scrawling the play’s name in chalk all over the city. Upon arriving at the Assembly Rooms, I’m ushered downstairs by director Alex Prescot whilst the cast are kept up on stage away from prying eyes. It all feels very MI6.
This production’s gestation period was a little out of the ordinary. Prescot first saw the play at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. “The writing immediately hit me because it’s so relatable,” he recalls, “you could meet these people anywhere after the show, and you’re getting a real glimpse into their lives.” He was so impressed that he’s taken the play straight from its first UK tour to Durham, and after Saturday’s performance, audience members can attend a Q&A with the original writers and cast.
As you’d expect from the idiosyncratic publicity, Hidden is very different to most shows in Durham. The play centres on the interconnected lives of six characters, and in Edinburgh they were all played by just two actors. In Durham there could be anywhere between two and six performers. The play is structured in terms of monologues and duologues, and for Prescot this gives a unique insight into the characters. “You’re seeing a lot of a character, for example, one of the monologues is eleven minutes long,” he tells me. “There are times when you see a character do a monologue, and you see them later on in a duologue, and because you’ve seen that monologue, the duologue scene is completely different.”
So what connects the seemingly disparate group of characters? “Everyone has insecurities, everyone has something that they’re hiding,” explains Prescot. One of the main themes of the play is interconnectedness, and the importance of seeing the whole picture. “It’s like when you realise that every human being around you is just as complex as you are. It’s about how everything interconnects; you construct the web in your head, and hopefully that will keep people thinking about the play. Unless you see everything, you can’t properly assess people’s lives.”
With Prescot going so far as to hold most of the rehearsals in his own home to shield the cast’s identities, you have to ask if it was all worth it. Not only was it fun to do publicity a little differently, concludes Prescot, but the mystery will enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the play. “When you see the production, you’ll see that there are moments that I think warrant the secrecy,” he says. “When the lights go down and you still don’t know who’s in it, the first thing you’re hit with is a character.”
For Prescot, the appeal of the show lays in its juxtaposition of characters that feel like they’ve “walked off the street and on to the stage”, and the cleverness of its construction. “It toys with you,” he smiles. “It challenges you to relate to it even when it shows you moments when you can’t relate, because you remember that you’re in a theatre.” It seems almost irresistible not to head to the Assembly Rooms on opening night to satisfy my curiosity. “It’s the best writing I’ve ever seen at the Fringe,” concludes Prescot, “and it’s completely different from anything I’ve seen in Durham.”
Hidden will be performed from the 4th of February to the 6th of February in The Assembly Rooms. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Alex Prescot