|Premiere||21 January 1983|
|Venue||The Space Adelaide Festival Centre, Australian International Puppet Festival|
SECRETS’ stellar career began with a Best Production award in its premiere season at the 1983 Australian International Puppet Festival in Adelaide, and from then toured in Australia, Europe and the USA until 1986. It spearheaded Melbourne’s connection with Italy’s Spoleto Festival (and the creation of the Melbourne Festival), and helped pave the way for small Australian companies to tour internationally – a rarity at the time.
Devised, designed and directed by Nigel Triffitt in collaboration with the Handspan ensemble in 1982, enigmatic, innovative, and provocative, SECRETS was a landmark production in the company's development. It was its first Mainstage production and from the outset, an extraordinary work, that brought both Handspan Theatre, and Triffitt, Australia-wide and international recognition.
Lauded and lambasted, SECRETS polarised audiences, provoking responses ranging from "a visual symphony" to "industrial strength twaddle". To anyone who sought a definitive explanation of SECRETS' polymorphic parade of imagery, Triffitt's reply was "If you want a story, go read a book."
Staged with puppets and visual imagery in a kaleidoscopic design of universal and multicultural symbols, SECRETS was performed to a soundtrack that mixed popular music and contemporary voice-over snippets in a pulsating and dramatic continuum. Its themes of anger, alienation and despair referenced the global and universal issues of assassination, terrorism and survival, as topical in the early 1980s as they are relevant in the 21st century.
It was an ambitious dream for all concerned, one that created a unique theatrical production and it's influence has become legendary.
Collectively they aspired to explore contemporary, confronting global issues through staged imagery. Triffitt's previous work with the Tasmanian Puppet Theatre Momma's Little Horror Show (1978) had sparked his interest in trying to find a visual language1 in his work. Helen and Ken were keen to create develop the form of Momma's ... to create an equally entertaining, but conceptually more substantial, new production. Influenced by their various months of travel, the work was conceived to represent a perspective on contemporary world tumult through visual metaphor and symbols. It was to be produced for touring to Australian audiences (initially envisaged to fit in a Kombi van!), and potentially overseas as well.
With a small project grant2, Handspan was able to commission the work to be developed with the company ensemble in 1982. Triffitt brought his draft soundscape and conceptual drawings to the studio/workshop where he harnessed the performance and technical strengths of the ensemble in a focused collective development process. Under the working titles, Rough Cut and Yassassin, SECRETS evolved over two intensive workshop/rehearsal periods between which Triffitt finalised the soundtrack and built his models based on the staging and imagery that had been created in the rehearsal room.
Triffitt described the play's concept:
Immediately after the play’s first preview showcase in June 1982, Nigel was told of his adoption at birth, previously a family secret. It was this momentous personal revelation that not only gave the play its title, but deepened the drama and poignancy of the work. Never explicit, its undercurrent connected the universality of imagery with raw personal emotion that contributed to the production’s subsequent palpable artistic impact.
SECRETS’ soundtrack mixed fragments of voiceover from documentaries, newsreels and broadcasts with excerpts from contemporary music and was played at loud volume. One US commentator wrote: It intersperses music and noise with the voices of assassination victims like Martin Luther King and John Lennon; the audio on Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting by Jack Ruby and various radio announcers’ report of the Kennedy shootings3
The show was a series of choreographed tableaux: black ninja-clad operators trapped the exquisite Fan Lady in a Star of David; an empty trenchcoat revealed disembodied secret-selves; oriental warriors jousted in a stylised battle; a pram appeared pushed by an Arab Sheik; a traveller followed a phallic serpent; a sloth licked a high-heel shoe hanging at the stern of ship as it slowly revolved to reveal its monkish figurehead.
SECRETS was developed by its original cast: Andrew Hansen, John Rogers, Peter J.Wilson, Carmelina Di Guglielmo and Ian Cuming. Lizz Talbot and Winston Appleyard respectively, took on the roles of the Fan Lady and the Black Samauri after the opening season and for its 264 performances in the following five years, the touring ensemble remained intact. All had creative ownership of the work which made it a compelling ensemble presentation.
SECRETS development took up much of 1982, but both Triffitt and the ensemble were excited by, and committed to, the work, and with the time, if little money, continued to experiment with and and refine the ideas and techniques in the work. it premiered at the Australian International Puppet Festival in January, 1983 at the Space Theatre in the Adelaide. There its lighting design and plot were with created with Lorraine Wheeler from the Festival Centre's production team and its opening was to an audience of puppetry peers as well as the general public.
SECRETS first review was headlined:
The place of the work in puppet theatre was widely discussed:
Gian Carlo Menotti saw SECRETS at the Universal Theatre in March 1983 during its first Melbourne season, and invited the production to his Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy and later to its companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1984.
The Spoleto Festival opening nights of SECRETS were magic and exhilarating occasions.. As the play ended in the Cortille della Rocca in Spoleto Italy, a hush descended on the audience and a fine rain began to drift through the beams from the exposed lighting grid. A suspended, breathless silence held, the finale music sounded, Riders on the Storm, and the performers appeared, pinpointed in the darkness and slowly bowed. The applause began slowly, and built to a crescendo, sustaining for some 7 minutes and finally erupting in shouting and cheers.
In contrast, a year later, on opening night in the Garden Theatre, Charleston there were walkouts during the performance and some booing as well as cheers. As the play ended, many stood and cheered, but others stood and yelled, ‘How dare you?’ …What do you think you’re trying to say here? As Riders of the Storm played out and the house lights came on audience members remained for almost an hour as they stood and argued with each other in furious and heated debate.
SECRETS attracted a plethora of diverse descriptive commentary and explanation. The production was discussed, questioned and argued about in over 100 written reviews and countless radio broadcasts and arts forums around the world, and by audiences for whom it was both engaging and provocative.
Handspan called it a 'ballet of movable objects' and others variously described it as:
Secrets received extraordinary reviews from its international tours:
SECRETS remained Handspan’s most iconic work, despite the success of the company’s later works, and was arguably the foundation for the opportunities and achievements in its future as well as being the inspiration for many subsequent artists and theatre workers who experienced its magic.
More than any other Australian work, SECRETS moved puppetry out of its conventions. It showed that visual theatre could speak to audiences anywhere. Its influence was felt in the wider performing arts industry too. Over the years, many artists in Australia and overseas have identified the play as their inspiration: it has been recalled as 'the show that led me into theatre'; 'the play that changed my perception of what made theatre' and 'what made me realise that theatre could say something'.
SECRETS has never been re-staged, it was one of those shows that was of its ensemble. Their last performances, in 1986, were at Commonwealth Games Arts Festival in Edinburgh.
- Nigel Triffitt: SBS News,1983
- Theatre Board, Australia Council Special Project Grant: $20,000
- Jacques le Sourd, Gannett – Westchester Newspapers 16th July, 1984
- Kay Hartley: Review: Mind-bending images. Centralian Advocate, Alice Springs, 9th October, 1985
- Pat Donnelly: The Gazette, Montreal, 15th June ,1984
- Alan Roberts, The Advertiser, Adelaide, 24th January, 1983
- Geelong News, 23rd March, 1984
- David Foster, The Riverina Leader, Wagga Wagga, NSW, 19th September, 1984
- William Starr, The State, Columbia, June,1984
- Carl Babcock, The Evening Post, Charleston, S.C. 31st May, 1984
- J.L.L. Johnson: Post-Courier, Charleston S.C. USA 1984
- National Times, Sydney,12 October,1984
Scroll back to Click Tabs: The People, The Performances & The Pictures
|Devised, designed & directed||Nigel Triffitt|
|Staging & image design concept realisation||Ken Evans with original cast|
|Lighting design realisation||Lorraine Wheeler with Philip Lethlean|
|Soundtrack compilation||Nigel Triffitt|
|Sound engineering||Adelaide Festival Centre Sound Department|
|Fan Lady||Carmelina Di Guglielmo (1982-84); Lizz Talbot (1984-86)|
|Black Samurai||Ian Cumming 1982/3; Winston Appleyard (1983-86)|
|Red Samurai||Andrew Hansen; Avril McQueen (1985)|
|White Samurai||Peter J.Wilson|
|The Traveller||John Rogers; David Hope (1986)|
|Music||David Byrne & Brian Eno; Ultravox; David Byrne; Andy Partridge; Steve Hackett, Talking Heads; Human League; Yellow Magic Orchestra; Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; Vangelis Papathanisiou; Penguin Café Orchestra; Irene Pappas & Vangelis; The Residents; The Doors; Dunya Yunis; Dyara Khan; Habibora Halika; Puk|
|Found Voices||J.G.Bennett; James Dean; Ian Breakwell; Lenny Bruce; Jory Graham; Elizabeth Kubler-Ross; Paul Jenning; Graeme Webb; Mel Oxley; Lowell Thomas; Ron Jenkins; George Martin; John Lennon; Martin Luther Ling; Peter Grimshaw; Nigel Hart|
|Survivors||Robert B.Hudson; Liliana Hughes; Capt. R.N.Hogg; Alice Antell; Jackie Heinz; Joseph Spa|
|Unknown||Announcers, Newsreaders, Eyewitnesses, Doctors, Reporters, Officials & Victims|
|Production manager/lighting operator||Philip Lethlean|
|Stage manager/sound operator||Ken Evans (1982/83); Paul Judd (1984/85); David Hope (1986)|
|Puppet makers||Maeve Vella, Ian Cumming; Ken Evans, Laurel Frank, Philip Lethlean and original cast|
|Construction assistants||Vincent McLellan & Paul Enion (work experience students)|
Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production, The Performances & The Pictures
|17 - 20 June||Showcase previews: Handspan Theatre Studio, Fitzroy|
|6 - 8 August||Showcase previews: Handspan Theatre Studio, Fitzroy|
|21 January – 5 February||The Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre for the Australian International Puppet Festival. National Health Services Association Critics Award for Most Innovative Australian Production|
|25 February – 19 March||The Universal Theatre, Melbourne the Melbourne Moomba Festival|
|15 – 25 June||The Universal Theatre, Melbourne|
|6 – 9 July||Cortile Della Rocca, Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, 1983, Spoleto, Italy|
|Dec 1983||Universal Theatre, Melbourne|
|5 – 21 January||Off Broadway Theatre, Festival of Sydney, NSW|
|14 – 16 March||Ford Theatre, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, VIC|
|3 – 22 April||Palais de Glaces, Paris, France|
|1 – 5 May||Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, London International Puppet Festival, UK|
|30 May - 3 June||Garden Theatre, Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, Charleston, South Carolina, USA|
|13 – 15 June||La Biblioteque, Quinzaine International du Theatre Quebec, Canada|
|13 – 22 July||Theatre D, State College of New York (SUNY), Pepsico Summerfare, Purchase, New York, USA|
|Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust tour|
|27 August||Mildura Arts Centre, Mildura, VIC|
|4 – 15 September||The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, ACT|
|18 – 19 September||The Wagga, Wagga Civic Theatre, Wagga Wagga NSW|
|21 – 22 September||Civic Theatre, Orange NSW|
|24 – 24 September||High School Hall, Scone NSW|
|27 – 29 September||Civic Theatre, Newcastle, NSW|
|2 – 13 October||Twelfth Night Theatre, Warana Festival, Brisbane, QLD|
|16 January – 24 February||Universal 2, Universal Theatre, Fitzroy, Melbourne|
|24 April||Teatro Due Torri, Incontri a Theatre Portenza, Italy|
|26 April||Teatro Dante, Incontroaziona ’85 Palermo, Sicily|
|27 - 30 April||Teatro Petruzzelli, Festival Musical a Square Bari, Italy|
|2 - 4 May||Teatro Verdi, Milano, Italy|
|6 - 7 May||Akademie der Kunst, Pantomime Muzik Tanz Theatre, Berlin, West Germany|
|2 - 5 Oct||Araluen Arts Centre, Breakout Festival, Alice Springs NT|
|29t July - 2 August||Music Hall, Assembly Rooms, Commonwealth Games Arts Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK|
|9 - 15 August||Music Hall, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Fringe Festival Edinburgh Scotland, UK|
|2 - 6 September||The Place Theater, London UK|
|8 - 10 September||Salle Patino, Festival de la Batie, Geneva, Switzerland|
|12 - 13 September||Palais des Congress, XXIX Festival du Jeune Theatre, Liege, Belgium|
|14 - 15 September||Centrum de Warande, Turnhout, Belgium|
|17 - 18 September||Centre Culturel du Hainaut, XXIX Festival du Jeune Theatre Mons, Belgium|
|19t - 20 September||Kulhurzurkus ’86, Nurengberg, Belgium|
|22 - 23 September||Maison de la Culture, XXIX Festival du Jeune Theatre Tournais, Belgium|
Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production, The People & The Pictures
SECRETS was extensively photographed from its creative development and rehearsal at in Handspan's Fitzroy studio (1982) and throughout its national and international tours (1983 - 1986)
The production's most memorable image, The Fan Lady, photographed by Stephen Hall, for the Victorian Ministry of the Arts in 1983, appeared on countless posters and marketing documents across the world.
Other SECRETS photographers include:
Cathy Koning, Melbourne, 1982
Fiona McDougall, The Melbourne Age,1982
Ken Evans, Melbourne, 1982 & 1983
Maeve Vella, Melbourne, 1983
Stephen Hall, Melbourne, 1983
David Simmonds, Adelaide, 1983
Lanfranco Gasparri, Spoleto, 1983
Kaye Tucker, Sydney,1984
Chooi Tan, Sydney, 1984
Anna Sherbany, London 1984
William Struhs, Charleston, 1984
The Production, The People & The Performances