Inspired by Joseph Conrad's 1907 terrorist novel, theatre O with Matthew Hurt and the Young Vic's The Secret Agent tries hard but falls short.
Superb physicality, particularly by the horror-struck Winnie (an intense performance by devisor Carolina Valdes), is – possibly ironically - counterpointed by white-faced vaudeville stereotypes, dull Gothic lurking and sickly sweet parlour songs.
There is a lack of cohesiveness as the over-written, plodding dark tale of espionage unfolds with Verloc (a maudlin George Potts) plotting his test of allegiance which spectacularly backfires.
Leander Deeny plays the mentally handicapped, stammering Stevie with heart-wrenching observation and sensitivity. He also goes to town on the part of mad Vladimir, provoking genuine laughter, but the over-the-top Mad March Hare-like scene goes on far too long and uncomfortably includes six biscuit-munching audience members assembled for a close up view of the re-enactment, with puppets, of an assassination of a child.
Yep, all a bit quirky but just doesn't engage.
Joseph Alford directs and Simon Daw's design is simple – heavy furniture, motif-laden props and two large brooding screens – while Anna Watson's lighting helps to ring the changes.