Saturday, 17 May 2014

Theatre review: Secret Theatre Show 5

There's been some changes to the Secret Theatre project at the Lyric Hammersmith: Charlotte Josephine seems to have been quietly replaced with Matti Houghton in the cast, and while Cara Horgan is still listed as part of the company, she wasn't in tonight's performance. The "secret" part is the one that's changed the most, with an increasing amount of publicity before each show. Shows 1 and 2 were designed to be a complete mystery to the audience until the moment the curtain went up, but by the time we get to Show 5, the piece the company will be taking to the Edinburgh Festival, it was made public beforehand that this was a piece devised by the company, and that it would feature a different one of them as the main character every night. Beyond that I'll stick to the rules I originally gave myself for reviewing these shows, of not mentioning details or the real title until after the text break. So spoilers abound from here on in.

After the main auditorium - in a couple of different guises - and the Studio space, the trip around the building now takes us to the rehearsal room, where the audience sit on three sides and the actors on the fourth. It's an appropriate venue for a piece that feels as if it's being largely made up as it goes along. The lead is picked out of a hat by the audience at the beginning of the show - tonight it was Stevie Webb who undertook A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts.

This title has a pretty literal interpretation in the sequence of physical tasks Webb is asked to carry out three times over the course of the show. Some are very hard (Webb turns out to be quite limber,) others merely unpleasant (eating a whole lemon) and others are well-known examples of things that are physically impossible (like licking your own elbow.) On another level the title could be seen to refer to the introspection Webb, or a fictionalised version of him at least, has to go through under the scrutiny or even bullying from the other members of the company. Leo Bill subjects him to a surreal, Othello-inspired lie detector test, Hammed Animashaun throws volleyballs at him, and many of the cast challenge him to a wrestling game that sees them try to strip each other of an item of clothing, so by the end Webb is performing in just his underwear, plus the cape that signifies he's that night's protagonist.

Directed by the venue's Artistic Director, and head supremo of the Secret Theatre project, Sean Holmes, A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is another step in the project's anti-naturalistic theme, that aims to blur the lines between rehearsal room and performance. It does that, and is largely entertaining, but I'm not convinced it's a coherent show. The evening's protagonist and his co-stars are, I'm sure, getting a lot out of it, but personal revelations don't necessarily translate to audience members who don't know them all personally1. I don't think this fifth show sees the company cross completely over into self-indulgence, but they're coming perilously close.

A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts by Nadia Albina, Hammed Animashaun, Leo Bill, Caroline Bird, Sean Holmes, Cara Horgan, Joel Horwood, Matti Houghton, Arinze Kene, Adelle Leonce, Nick Manning, Ellen McDougal, Katherine Pearce, Lizzie Powell, Billy Seymour, Hyemi Shin, Hayley Squires, Simon Stephens, Sergo Vares and Steven Webb is booking until the 29th of May at the Lyric Hammersmith; with dates in Edinburgh to be announced.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

1the fact that the actors go round the room beforehand, greeting any friends of theirs who've turned up, only emphasises the fact that people who know the cast personally seem to be getting more out of the show than the average audience member

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