At the Secret Theatre Company, we aim to challenge the norms of traditional theatre storytelling and performance as audiences know it, says Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith
In 2012, a production of a new Simon Stephens play called Three Kingdoms came to the Lyric. It was a co-production between Germany’s Munich Kammerspiele and Estonia’s Teater NO99 and had actors from three countries in three languages. Visual, audacious, full of music, humour and darkness, it blew our minds and showed us that London audiences were hungry for work that provoked and surprised. Partly what made Three Kingdoms so exciting was that both theatres shared a permanent ensemble of actors, whose theatre muscles were highly developed and were constantly evolving – we dreamed of having such a British company.
So when the Lyric entered a period of significant redevelopment in 2013, we decided to create a ‘secret theatre’ at the heart of a building site, one that could work in a flexible and reactive way. More than this, we wanted to challenge orthodoxies of traditional theatre and to test ourselves in new ways, such as in the make-up of our ensemble. We have a company of ten actors: five women and five men, which meant all our shows had to have an equal number of both sexes. We had to be creative and non-literal in our casting, which led to surprising and proactive choices.
At first, we were trying to change everything we knew about theatre – a noble, if slightly crazed, objective. I’ve since realised that we had one simple aim: to release the actors’ potential as individuals, and as a group; to give them internal structures so they could be as physically brave, emotionally vulnerable and as beautifully silly as possible.
This ambition was realised most fully in our fifth production A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts. Each night one of the actors is chosen at random to attempt a series of increasingly impossible tasks: physical, emotional and intellectual. It ranges from being deeply silly (there’s Impossible Circuit Training for example) to being deeply moving (a whole relationship in all its complexity is portrayed in two minutes).
At its heart, however, is a celebration of that peculiarly human need to attempt to change that which appears to be impossible to change. The show is communal, joyous and unique, and we are delighted to bring it to the Tricycle in January.
Sean Holmes is Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith. The Secret Theatre Company performs A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts at Tricycle Theatre from 12-31 January 2015. 7.30pm start. Mon tickets £13, Tues-Sat tickets £16, concessions available; 020 7328 1000; tricycle.co.uk