|21 January 1983
|The Space Adelaide Festival Centre, Australian International Puppet Festival
‘’Spoleto ‘84’’ Journal unknown,1984
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 North America until 1986. It both spearheaded Melbourne’s connection with Italy’s Spoleto 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.
SECRETS was developed by its original cast and crew: Andrew Hansen, John Rogers, Peter J.Wilson, and Carmelina Di Guglielmo. Ian Cuming. After the opening season, Lizz Talbot replaced Carmelina di Guglielmo in the role of the Fan Lady and Winston Appleyard replaced Ian Cuming as the Black Samurai. For its 264 performances in the following five years, the touring cast remained relatively intact their creative investment assuring a compelling ensemble presentation, performed with unnerving exactitude1
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 moveable objects 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.
SECRETS was a series of choreographed tableaux: operators in black ninja costumes enclosed the exquisite Fan Lady in a Star of David; an empty trenchcoat revealed disembodied secret-selves; oriental warriors jousted in a stylised battle; a traveller followed a phallic serpent; a sloth licked a high-heel shoe hanging in the stern of a revolving ship; and psychedelic circles spun on a ferris wheel. Through it all a parcel, delivered in a pram, travelled by sea to the ending where the box opened to reveal a tiny, fragile wire figure floating in the beams of its mirrored lining.
SECRETS’ soundtrack, effectively the 'script' for the show, mixed fragments of voiceover from documentaries, newsreels and broadcasts with excerpts from contemporary music. These were recording on cassette tapes by Nigel in hotels rooms around the world.For the premiere Puppet Festival season these were mastered to reel-to-reel tape by the production department at the Adelaide Festival Centre - two closely guarded copies only, always retaining a faint but discernible background hiss.
For its public premiere Philip Lethlean developed the Lighting Design and plot with Triffitt guided by Lorraine Wheeler from the Festival Centre. Manually operated by Philip for every performance, the downlights, side light-curtains and congo blue insensified the show's impact.
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 language in his work. Rickards and Evans were keen to create develop the form of Momma's ... to create an equally entertaining, but conceptually more substantial, new production. Influenced by their travels outside Australia, 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 grant, 2 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 Handspan studio 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.
Coinciding with the first preview of the production's development, 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 as it progressed to its final version. Never explicit, its undercurrent connected the universal imagery with raw personal emotion that contributed significantly to the production’s subsequent palpable artistic impact.
The work evolved as it was created, Nigel adding found images and objects from around the studio and beyond3 . as much as drawing designs to be articulated by the puppet makers there.
SECRETS was booked by Andrew Bleby for the Australian International Puppet Festival immediately after the Showcase in June 1982. With a gig lined up and time, if little money, both Triffitt and Handspan were excited by and committed to, its continuing evolution and refinement.
SECRETS development extended throughout 1982, a rewarding process that tightened the work's focus and dramatic balance and allowed for the extensive rehearsal its techniques required. The play showcased again in December 1982 and secured a Melbourne season at the Universal Theatre for the following year.
When the play premiered at the Australian International Puppet Festival in January, 1983 it was to success and acclaim.
So warned the headline of SECRETS first review written by Alan Roberts in the Adelaide Advertiser in January 1983. Thus began the copious commentary about its meaning, its place in contemporary, alternative theatre and its definition as 'puppetry' that followed its appearances around the world. With a Best Production Award from the Festival its reputation was enhanced, and public curiosity saw sold out seasons become commonplace.
Handspan called SECRETS a 'ballet of movable objects' and others variously described it as:
SECRETS was discussed, questioned and argued about in over 100 written reviews, countless radio broadcasts, at arts forums around the world, and by audiences for whom it was either engaging or provocative, or both. Files of newspaper clippings are held in the Handspan Theatre archives at the Performing Arts Collection.
International observations often focused of the Australian origin of the piece.
Others wrote descriptions and analysis of its techniques and its meaning, and compared Triffitt with contemporaries world-wide.
Additional review extracts can be found on 'The Reviews' Tab above.
After its successful premiere in Adelaide, SECRETS played four seasons at the Universal Theatre in Melbourne (1983-85) presented in partnership between Handspan and Hocking and Woods. It toured Australia's eastern seaboard to capital cities and country towns for Wendy Blacklock at the Australian Content Department of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and to Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, UK, Scotland with London producer, Donatella Bernstein.
European touring began when Gian Carlo Menotti saw the production at the Universal Theatre during its first Melbourne season, and invited it to his Festival dei duo Mondi in Spoleto, Italy and to its companion festival in Charleston, South Carolina in 1984.
Spoleto Festival performances of SECRETS were exhilarating occasions. As the play ended on opening night in the Cortille della Rocca 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, 12 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. Unfortunately a largely negative review in the New York Times curtailed any opportunity for Handspan to find a USA producer.
Nevertheless, SECRETS never lost its European appeal touring successfully there in several locations until its final performances as an official Australian presentation in the Cultural Program of the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.
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.
More than any other Australian work, SECRETS moved puppetry beyond 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 theatre practitioners in Australia and overseas have identified the play as an 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'.
|Devised, designed & directed
|Staging & image design concept realisation
|Ken Evans with original cast
|Lighting design realisation
|Lorraine Wheeler with Philip Lethlean
|Adelaide Festival Centre Sound Department
|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
|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
|Robert B.Hudson; Liliana Hughes; Capt. R.N.Hogg; Alice Antell; Jackie Heinz; Joseph Spa
|Announcers, Newsreaders, Eyewitnesses, Doctors, Reporters, Officials & Victims
|Production manager/lighting operator
|Stage manager/sound operator
|Ken Evans (1982/83); Paul Judd (1984/85); David Hope (1986)
|Maeve Vella, Ian Cumming; Ken Evans, Laurel Frank, Philip Lethlean and original cast
|Vincent McLellan & Paul Enion (work experience students)
|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
|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
|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
|Teatro Due Torri, Incontri a Theatre Portenza, Italy
|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
Original press clippings about SECRETS collected from Australian and international touring locations from 1983 to 1986 are held in the Handspan Theatre archives at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
The following extracts, listed chronologically, are a glimpse into the extent and range of the commentary.
SECRETS was extensively photographed from its creative development and rehearsal 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 in 1983 for the Victorian Ministry of the Arts, 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