Inspired by the work of Yuval Harari – ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind’ (2011) – this highly engaging piece captures your imagination from the get go. The book itself discusses evolutionary theory and how the human race has developed over time, stressing the cognitive development and intelligence of the human mind compared with our ancestors. ‘Secret Life of Humans’ includes touches of Harari’s work but also adds a modern twist which is used to take the audience on a journey back in time. Having previously read Harari’s work, the way in which the play incorporates thought provoking detail of our revolutionary history is truly captivating.
The play, written by David Bryne and co-directed by both himself and Kate Stanley also draws on the work of the famous mathematician Jacob Bronowski, most popularly known for his TV series the Ascent of Man (1973). He becomes a focal point in the narrative, brilliantly portrayed by Richard Delaney, for his concealing of mathematical work of bombings that took place in World War II. His grandson Jamie (Andrew Stafford-Baker) and his date Eva (Stella Taylor) discover these findings where Jamie is forced to reassess his thoughts towards his beloved Grandfather. This narrative is the perfect premise for a piece of theatre that seeks to address the development of the human psyche over time. It is used to suggest how humans have become so intelligent that they now have the means to formulate their thinking in ways capable of human race devastation and destruction, ultimately inflicted upon the humans themselves. This idea is also cleverly mirrored within Jamie and Eva’s relationship where issues of self-promotion and ego are addressed.
The set is put together excellently by Jen McGinley who seeks to denote notions of ancestral history though projection and design which is cleverly executed. The use of this projection shows our ancestors holding hands, walking similarly to us but in a horizontal form where the audience are literally forced to look down on them. This clever direction highlights change but also the idea that no matter how much the human psyche develops, the very nature of our form is embedded in each and every one of us – perhaps we are more similar to ancient ancestors than we first thought.
‘Secret Life of Humans’ is an intelligent piece of theatre which seeks to address many theories that Bronowski and Harari have addressed in their work. It stimulates the audience’s imagination in a way that shows us how the way we are and the way we are developing, impacts us all. The directors execute this thought provoking topic well, leaving you inspired and engaged. Well worth a watch.