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Secret Theatre Company: A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts

22 December 2014 Jessica Johnston

“Sometimes things come out of your mouth and then you look back after a show and think, I can’t believe I said that!”

Can you lick your elbow? Wrap your legs around your head? Eat a whole lemon? Walk through walls? Didn’t think so... But apparently The Secret Theatre Company can! Fresh from their nationwide tour, this eccentric ensemble of theatre makers return to London with their exhilarating show A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts. Ahead of their joyous run at the Tricycle Theatre in the New year, London Calling caught up with cast member Cara Horgan to find out what impossible acts they will be delighting audiences with on stage!

London Calling: How did the Secret Theatre Company come about?

Cara Horgan: The Secret Theatre Company was created by Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of Lyric Hammersmith. He put together a company of ten actors who have all come from different theatre experiences; Sean had only worked with two of the company members before, so he auditioned the rest of us and put together quite an eclectic bunch. We joined with the understanding that we were going to be making theatre for one year in which time we would devise four plays, but then things changed and it has now extended. The whole idea of Secret Theatre Company came together under the umbrella of Sean wanting to take a more experimental and diverse approach to theatre and make work in a different way.

LC: What's the Secret Theatre Company philosophy?

CH: Well I suppose like all good theatre, we want to look at reflecting what it is to be human, that’s what we are trying to communicate through all of our plays. As a company we want to challenge the way theatre is made in this country by taking more time and being more experimental. For example one of the premises of Secret Theatre was that we wouldn’t announce the names of our shows, instead they are titled Show 1,2,3 and so on. The idea behind this was to get the audience to see a show without any pre-conceived ideas about what they were about to watch. We want their experience to start from a blank canvas and be baggage free.

LC: Tell us about your show A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts...

CH: This show takes the form of a piece of controlled improvisation that is mostly focused on the experience of being human. At the start of the show, all of our names go into a hat, we ask an audience member to pull a name out and the person who is selected then becomes the protagonist of the play. As a company each night is really exciting for us because we don’t know how the show is going to go. The whole thing is improvised so the audience are getting a true live experience and this is what makes our type of theatre making different from others. Potentially you could see the show ten different times and see ten completely different shows because there are ten of us in the company and we all bring something unique to the performance.

LC: What was the devising process behind the show?

CH: During a three-month rehearsal process we each created snippets of material that reflected different aspects of what it is to be human and human endeavour. By the end of the three months we had accumulated ninety-one little pieces of work, which were strung together in a loose narrative.

LC: So what impossible acts will the Company be delighting audiences with?

CH: Well this is a very physical show to watch, so there is actual wrestling that takes place as well as some impossible circuit training with an obstacle course. Audiences will also hear about the genuine life experiences of each protagonist, everything from love and humiliation to all of the lessons that they have endured up to that very moment in time.

LC: This show really is so unpredictable! It must be slightly unnerving not knowing what’s going to happen on stage each night in front of a live audience?

CH: It is slightly unnerving but mostly it’s exhilarating because you are really thinking on your feet. Of course there is an element of that which is kind of exposing and sometimes things come out of your mouth and then you look back after a show and think, I can’t believe I said that! So there are moments when you can feel quite sheepish but that is also what’s so joyful about watching the show because the audience know they are experiencing something live and unrehearsed. It’s such an exciting show to be a part of because it never gets boring and it is within our power to shake it up how we want. I have never been a part of a show that has the ability to metamorphosize and change like this does.

LC: How much preparation can you actually do when it comes to improvising?

CH: So with a show like this there is a rough structure in that we know the order of the scenes but that’s about it. What happens in each scene is absolutely up to the protagonist and the rest of the cast. To be honest, you can’t really prepare for a show like this other than making sure that you are physically warmed up and raring to go!

LC: Has anything ever gone terribly wrong?

CH: Oh yes, our clothes have ripped and parts of the body have been exposed! One of our cast members really hurt her foot during a show and she had to come out of the season for a while. It is such a physical show so of course there is that slight element of risk but we are pretty good at covering each other when things do go wrong.

LC: This show is non-stop both physically and mentally, as a cast your endurance must be seriously tested!

CH: Yes it is! And that’s what is so exhilarating about the show because rather than watching an actor ‘act’ endurance you are actually watching someone really go through something and I think we can all empathise with that. What’s also great is that because the cast have been working together for two years now and we know each other so well, we can all really push each other and ourselves because that really strong level of trust is there.

LC: This form of theatre really challenges our idea of traditional performance... Why do you think this is so important to engage audiences in this way?

CH: In this country we have a really strong and interesting historical theatre tradition that has existed since Shakespeare’s time and before. This form of theatre presents a barrier between the audience and the actors, where by the audience sit in the dark and watch the actors through this kind of box and this is a format that we are all very familiar with. What’s really interesting about what Sean is doing, particularly with this show, is he is well and truly breaking that fourth wall in a really unique way.

LC: The Company has just retuned from a nationwide tour, how was that?

CH: It was wonderful! Seeing how different audiences in different parts of the country responded to our work was really great.  I think in London we are so lucky and so spoilt for choice when it comes to theatre and what’s on offer, but in some places outside of the capital there is much less on offer. In some theatres we visited, our show was the only performance people could see that week. We found that audiences from across the county have a real hunger for theatre that is different, which is something we weren’t really expecting so we were very lucky.

LC: What can audiences expect when they come and see A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts?

CH: Well so far we have had audiences gasping, laughing and even standing up on their chairs. This is a very varied show, which seems to provoke individual responses from all of its audience members. Without wanting to sound full of it, I think audiences are likely to see something they wouldn’t have seen before.

A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts is on at the Tricycle Theatre from 12th – 31st January 2015. Tickets cost £13 - £16, available here.

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