David Byrne's play Secret Life of Humans is a drama of ideas exploring the nature of humanity and its capacity for progress, examining the legacy of Jacob Bronowski, writer and presenter of the groundbreaking 1973 television documentary series The Ascent of Man.
The play was first performed at the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe (previews at New Diorama Theatre, London). The production returned to New Diorama on 10 April 2018, ahead of a transfer to 59E59 Theaters, Off-Broadway, on 31 May 2018.
The play's action – most of which takes place in the Bronowski family home, in the present day, over the course of a single night – is framed by a lecture being delivered by Ava, a young research scientist, to her students. When she discovers her Tinder date is Bronowski’s grandson, Jamie, who is in London to clear his grandfather’s house, she cannot wait to get inside the famous locked room in the house and uncover the secrets hidden within. The play weaves together three distinct time frames: the present; Bronowski’s wartime career working for the government on a top secret project that led to the firebombing of Dresden; and the distant past when our ancestors walked the earth.
In his Introduction to the published playtext, David Byrne writes: 'The core of [Jacob Bronowski's] story in this play is true. [His] daughter, Lisa Jardine, made the documentary My Father, the Bomb and Me, documenting her own discoveries in her father’s locked and alarmed room. In Secret Life of Humans, we’ve imagined the discovery skipped a generation, and the revelations are made over the course of a single night.'
The premiere production was directed by David Byrne and Kate Stanley. It was performed by Stella Taylor, Andrew Strafford-Baker, Richard Delaney, Olivia Hirst and Andy McLeod.