A comprehensively autobiographical production, Lowri Evans’s Secret Life is at the very least an utterly fascinating experiment. Her narrating self is both sincere and, of necessity (on-stage, spot-lit, on display, displaying herself), an impersonator of herself.
In her finest moments – reliving the awesome bittersweetness of youthful love and loss, for instance; discovering a marvellous, miraculous kinship with the universe (or at least with a half-lit beacon of Granada Studios) as she negotiates (with) bewildering grief; stumbling through a heartbreak ‘of orbital proportions’ – the fragile figure in her neat, beautifully cut, sequined white dress allowing an audience of strangers access to a sea of sensation is no actor (though she dabbles in performance, by turns scripted, impromptu, interactive, imagistic, impressionistic, earnestly affective). She is a mass of animated memories speaking for themselves; we are not a viewing audience but witness.
But those very moments, to the ear bent on plucking out their performative content or intent, are precisely everything a storytelling impresario can do: a reading of poetic-prose-fragments, a physical art/conceptualization of complex emotions/experiences, a concentrated performance of that stylization which constitutes a young adult’s self-identification/recognition, autobiographical reminiscence transformed into autobiographical monologue narrated with a tripled urgency: in the first person, by the author, enacted. And that with an almost passionate fluidity, suppleness of voice, quietude of soundtrack, tone, and colour.
Lowri Evans’s seemingly unassuming answer to ‘Which memory/ies would you miss the most?’ – inspired by her work with patients of dementia – has all the heartfelt candour of the personal blog, but her treatment of the material is subtly, caressingly theatrical – and her venue, it turns out, is a perfect match.
Belying its name as well as the precursory curving wall one passes walking up Harleyford Street, the Ovalhouse is composed of a small, vaguely triangular lobby and two low-ceilinged, square-ish mingling rooms that lead into a fairly regular, rectangular auditorium. The lobby’s whitewashed brick walls and randomly-spaced seats clustered around small tables, the little neon-lit Café area, and the slightly dishevelled dim lighting give the space an almost makeshift appearance: even the row of upside-down tulips hung across one wall and colour-lit from below seem a bit forlorn. I was surprised and a little sorry to discover they were real; the kitschiness of fake flowers has a categorical, hedonistic aplomb: a dramatic quiff vitalizing even an otherwise retiring face. And yet.. There is something compelling, even irresistible, about the theatre: an almost absent-minded sense of sufficiency, perhaps, that complements the unselfconsciously eclectic fare on offer (Ovalhouse is currently advertising the fiftieth anniversary of its first ever theatrical production (A Taste of Honey, 1963) and Our Big Land, “the first play by a Romany Traveller writer [Dan Allum] to be presented in the UK,” in addition to The Secret Life of You and Me). Even if you miss Evans’s show, the Ovalhouse is worth a visit.