Kate and Alyesha were waiting for their boyfriends Sean and Derek. What was happening only a few hundred yards away would change their lives forever. Sean, egged on by his mates, fought a young black boy Derek. At first it seemed an even fight, but when Derek goaded him, Sean released a series of blows that left Derek dead. All swore their allegiance to silence. Only WeirdBoy a loner who can read the mind of others, watched them all, waiting to release the fear that would continue to haunt them. Derek’s friends decided they would have to take matters into their own hands, the police would do nothing for them. Kate, haunted by Derek’s ghost, knew the truth must come out, for his sake, for his family and friends, for Alyesha who visited his grave every day. Sean didn’t want her to tell it, nor it seemed did the police. The fight was only just beginning.
Can you keep a Secret? was part of the National Theatre’s BT Connections project. The production was chosen from hundreds to be performed on the Cottesloe stage.
James Wakefield was a member of the Youth Theatre in the late 1990s which performed Can You Keep A Secret? at the National Theatre as part of the BT National Connections. Interviewed by Toni Tsaera.
Vishni Velada-Billson was Education Officer at Half Moon Theatre on White Horse Road in the late 1990s and became Associate Director in the early 2000s. She talks about Can You Keep A Secret. Interviewed by Daisy Snooks.
January 1999 is when I became a bona fide actor and entered show business and the acting profession proper. I’d spent almost three years preparing for this moment in my life. I received an invitation to audition for a play entitled Can You Keep A Secret by Winsome Pinnock. I attended the audition and did alright. I then received a call back, again this was a group audition, much like a workshop and was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. I appeared to portray rather well, the character of Chief Inspector Johnson. A character with suspicious undertones, Johnson was the lead investigator on the murder of a teenage boy by another gang of youths.
About a week after the second audition I was offered the part of Johnson by the play’s Director, Vishni Velada-Billson. I duly accepted. Vishni was an excellent theatrical director and to this very day, I consider her in the top two of the best directors I’ve ever worked under in my twenty-year career.
This was a most enjoyable production; the cast were predominantly between the ages of eighteen and twenty years old. I was the elder statesman at the grand old age of twenty five! The exuberant young cast were outstanding, and we performed the play at the Half Moon Theatre itself a few times.
We were then notified that we were going to perform at the Young Vic Studio which was exhilarating to say the least. Then came the ‘career defining’ news that we were to play at the Royal National Theatre – Cottesloe stage in July 1999! This culmination was a part of a UK wide event with other theatre companies presenting plays, also at the National. At the end of our final performance, having done the business, the ensemble (cast, crew and production staff) received an award for best play, the ‘trophy’ was given to us on the Cottesloe stage itself, fresh from another invigorating performance.
To summarise, I had the opportunity to take on a brilliant role, an intriguing character, alongside a talented young cast; with a brilliant technical team, and all under the direction of the wonderful Ms Billson. To top it all off, we can say with pride that we were a part of the very famous and prestigious Half Moon Theatre, which is steeped in history and tradition. Lastly, to this day, having the honour to perform at the National Theatre twenty years ago is still one of the greatest highlights of my acting career. On a personal note, my professional career went from strength to strength in which I’ve also been a prolific writer, a theatre producer and director, an independent film-maker and have also managed my own theatre company.
Can You Keep A Secret? was performed as part of the BT National Connections scheme run in conjunction with the Royal National Theatre. The scheme was a celebration of youth theatre around the UK and aimed to provide a platform for develop new work to be performed by young people by established writers. The Half Moon Young People’s Theatre applied along with over a thousand schools, youth groups and colleges across the UK to be part of the programme, and was one of the 150 groups selected.