The new show from Secret Theatre, The Invitation, aims to be a night of opulence, intrigue and social commentary but misses on all fronts.
The one promise The Invitation makes good on is its attempt to be “Eyes Wide Shut meets Se7en”. It borrows explicitly from both, using the mask/password set-up from Kubrick and character names, plot devices, and dialogue pulled directly from Se7en. This does at least allow for some sense to be made of the frequently incoherent story.
The Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green is made the home of an elite night for the rich and debauched. The show opens in a suitably decadent room (albeit with sound issues) but much of it takes place in an unpleasantly brightly lit council room. The script is so weak it approaches farce at times – and indeed the audience broke out in laughter several times. The cast are trying hard, but the majority are fighting a losing battle with their lines.
Most concerningly, the show fails badly in terms of consent and content information. At one point I had a realistic fake gun pointed directly at me without warning and, more generally, the actors need better guidance on how to appropriately interact with audience members. The show also deals with themes of suicide, mental illness, paedophilia, sex work, drug abuse, and abortion in ways that range from the heavy-handed to the offensive and distressing.
The Invitation demonstrates how difficult it is to create immersive work that feels risqué but is safe for everyone involved. Desire is of course subjective, but genuine sexiness is built on consent and intelligence, both of which are sorely lacking here.