Tag Archives: Sean Holmes

Secret Theatre: Show 5

*Deep breath*

I want to talk about Secret Theatre Show 5, or A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts. Trouble is, I can’t really do so without talking a bit about myself, because my experience of the show has been so bound up with the last three months of my life. So forgive me.

I feel like, for a number of reasons, it’s only through the prism of my own experience that I can discuss this extraordinary piece of work with any honesty. I’ve seen it three times now, but each time I’ve had a totally different reaction which, on reflection, has totally responded to how I was feeling at the time. It’s key strength lies in the fact that it morphs and changes with your own experience, and in doing so proves that all theatre is subjective and can be interpreted in any number of different ways. Show 5 is ‘about’ whatever you want it to be about. Continue reading Secret Theatre: Show 5

Secret Theatre: Show Four

at the Lyric Hammersmith, Wednesday 12th February 2014

HERE BEGINS THE SPOILER ALERT

Inevitably, Secret Theatre will be secret no more if you read this post. So yeah, read on if you’ve seen the show, don’t care about the ‘secret’ bit or have no intention whatsoever of seeing it (though you’d be a fool if that were the case).

HERE ENDS THE SPOILER ALERT

Show Four is a strange beast. It shows the Secret Theatre ensemble really interrogating and getting to grips with gender and political thought whilst also retreating a little from the loud, bombastic tone of the first three shows. It is an adaptation whilst also feeling very much like a new play. It’s the first show for which Sean Holmes isn’t credited as director. And we’re no longer in the main theatre.

That last point marks more of a shift than you may imagine. Continue reading Secret Theatre: Show Four

Secret Theatre: Show Three

HERE BEGINS THE SPOILER ALERT

Inevitably, Secret Theatre will be secret no more if you read this post. So yeah, read on if you’ve seen the show, don’t care about the ‘secret’ bit or have no intention whatsoever of seeing it (though you’d be a fool if that were the case).

HERE ENDS THE SPOILER ALERT

In this review, I’ve tried to experiment with not including the play’s title, its author or key plot points, just to see how much it is possible to discuss a show without those things. I should also probably say that I went to a small Q&A with Sean Holmes before the show and subsequently chatted to some of the cast and creative team afterwards. Thought I’d put that out there in the interests of full disclosure. 

First, it’s worth saying that Show Three is very different to Shows One and Two. We enter the theatre through a different entrance, end up in a different space and watch a piece of work tonally and linguistically different to its predecessors, which makes for a very different experience. In the first two shows, the tension was found by placing a deconstructed version of a ‘classic’, ‘canonical’ text in the context of a grand, ‘proper’ theatre space. In Show Three, it’s almost the opposite way round, with a fairly straightforward reading of a text being placed within the confines of a deconstructed theatre space. Continue reading Secret Theatre: Show Three

Interview: Cara Horgan

*Originally written for Exeunt*

In her new book Theatre-Making, Duška Radosavljević suggests that the mode towards which a lot of British theatre is moving in 2013 is that which allows for room for “co-creation” between audience and performers. It’s been a growing form over the past decade or so, takes many guises, and has reached out to both mainstream and fringe audiences. It is a mainstay of artists like Tim Crouch and Ontroerend Goed among others. Now, after the first two shows of Secret Theatre, it has become clear that Sean Holmes and his ensemble at the Lyric Hammersmith have also chosen to join in with the fun, creating a season of work which, according to Cara Horgan, asks “the audience to put their own interpretation or their own understanding of things on the work they’re seeing. We hope they’re walking away with their own autonomy determining how they understand it and what it is.” Continue reading Interview: Cara Horgan

Secret Theatre: Show One

at the Lyric Hammersmith, Wednesday 11th September 2013

HERE BEGINS THE SPOILER ALERT

Inevitably, Secret Theatre will be secret no more if you read this post. So yeah, read on if you’ve seen the show, don’t care about the ‘secret’ bit or have no intention whatsoever of seeing it (though you’d be a fool if that were the case).

HERE ENDS THE SPOILER ALERT Continue reading Secret Theatre: Show One

Secret Theatre: Show Two

at the Lyric Hammersmith, Tuesday 10th September 2013

HERE BEGINS THE SPOILER ALERT

Inevitably, Secret Theatre will be secret no more if you read this post. So yeah, read on if you’ve seen the show, don’t care about the ‘secret’ bit or have no intention whatsoever of seeing it (though you’d be a fool if that were the case).

HERE ENDS THE SPOILER ALERT Continue reading Secret Theatre: Show Two

“Morning” by Simon Stephens

at the Traverse Theatre, Friday 17th August 2012

It feels appropriate to begin a review of Simon Stephens’ Morning at the end, with Stephanie’s announcement that “Everybody wants a message and there is none… There is no hope”. In typical Stephens style, the previous hour has been a harrowing and dark experience, but even though his protagonist makes this terrifying statement, it is followed by her brother coming to the stage and putting on clothes for his mother’s funeral. It’s impossible not to see this as a sign of hope, but to do so is to reject what has just been said. Once again, Stephens gets inside our mind and twists it out of shape.

The plot pivots around Stephanie, whose best friend Cat is leaving for university whilst her mother is dying. Two of the most important people in her life are leaving and she has to grow up. For her, however, this manifests itself as the murder of her boyfriend, Stephen. As soon as she realises she has responsibility and has to take control, this is the only way out, the only thing which seems sensible. As he frequently does, Stephens is demonstrating the violence inherent in our society. It is no wonder mindless killings happen when there is little hope.

As happens often in coming-of-age pieces, there is much discussion of a hatred of a home town. Cat can’t wait to go to university because where she lives is “horrifying”. Having outgrown it, she now needs to move on. But while her response is conventional, Stephanie has a more complex view of their home, believing it to be “beautiful” but “noisy”. More intriguing, however, she contemplates that all the gardens are the same “so nobody gets jealous”. This naïve understanding about suburbia is beautifully placed in the moments following the murder of Stephen; she is now seeing the world anew.

Sean Holmes’ production takes the ideas in Stephens’ text and puts them into images. Death is hidden away within a small greenhouse while Michael Czepiel sits on stage, creating live the sounds which surround these young people. Actors move across the stage in a way which mirrors their thoughts and feelings rather than real life, and a fridge acts as both doorway and refuge. Charles Balfour’s bright, white, neon lights are placed at various points on the stage, and flicker on and off at sudden moments of realisation or confusion. The mood created by this design is one of exposure, as everything these teens do is scrutinised by us, the audience, and the world at large.

The most striking visual image is of a burning paper boat in a tank of water. The calm after the storm.

All the performers deliver their lines in what has become trademark Stephens style: biting honesty with a hint of self-awareness. We can see the actors playing the parts, but that doesn’t make these characters any less believable. Ted Reilley’s Stephen is awkward and scarily obsessive about his girlfriend; there is something intense in his performance which isn’t in the text. Joana Nastari’s Cat and Scarlet Billham’s Stephanie are two sides of the same coin (highlighted by their black and white clothes). Nastari is confident but unaware, and Billham more shy but extraordinarily plugged in. When she addresses us, she does so with relish.

Which takes us back to the final speech. The speech in the playtext is longer than the one presented on stage, and includes a lot of talk about waste. It’s a superlative piece of writing, and says a lot about our inert society, but Holmes was sensible to cut this down, making the monologue more tragic than angry, fitting in more happily with Stephanie’s persona. Within the last quarter of the play, Stephens forces us to look at the play afresh every five minutes. First, Stephanie writes “The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it”. Her last speech then warns us that “there is no hope”, making the previous statement void. Finally, the appearance of a young man preparing for his mother’s funeral offers that glimmer of optimism Stephens told us there wouldn’t be. Perhaps we’re stupid to fall for the very technique he chastises, but it’s impossible not to after experiencing the rest of the play. Morning is a piece which demonstrates the unsalvageable issues with the modern world, but it is that final kernel of hope which lingers.