Theatre review: Show 1, Lyric Hammersmith
The known quantity is a factor that London theatre has a depressing habit of unduly relying upon. Think of all those screen-to-stage adaptations that angle to clean up at the box office by feeding audiences with the safely familiar or the slew of preview pieces that these days excessively prime punters on what to anticipate.
To counter this culture, the eminent playwright Caryl Churchill came up with the idea of “Surprise Theatre” which was adopted as a strand of the “Open Court” season at the Royal Court in the summer. On Monday and Tuesday evenings, people were invited to experience a unique, one-off event about which they had had no advance warning.
The attempt to take audiences off-guard in an atmosphere unclouded (so to speak) by clued-up expectation is carried much further now at the Lyric Hammersmith where, during the current rebuild, the artistic director Sean Holmes has seized the opportunity to initiate a bracingly iconoclastic 8-month, 7-show experiment – with a 20-strong ensemble of actors and writers – in breaking the accepted conventions of making theatre.
The shows are advertised by number rather than by title and, as you enter the auditorium you could be making a blind date with a classic, an adaptation, or a completely new play. That's if, in the age of social media, you've managed to retain your innocence. Because of a clash with another opening, I fetched up at the second performance of Show 1, having sedulously avoided, with some difficulty, glancing at any spilt beans. People wanting to play the Lyric's game should therefore read no further.
Billy Seymour in Show 1 at the Lyric Hammersmith
If it's disappointing that the play turns out to be Buchner's oft-performend Woyzeck (here in David Harrower's adaptation), I was held by Holmes's stripped-back, circus-like, gender- and colour-blind production which, as in his fine work with Filter Theatre, aims at a disconcertingly non-literal, knockabout fidelity to the spirit rather than to the letter of the original.
The proceeding are dominated here by the nerve-racking recurrent image of Billy Seymour's soldier protagonist running round in obsessive circles, clad in grubby vest and underpants and clamped to a leash. The company clamber in and out of animal costumes and it's characteristic of the show's stage language that Katherine Pearce's Marie flirts with the sax-playing cross-cast Drum Major (Charlotte Josephine) via a shambolic rendition of “Big Spender” as she struggles to extricate herself from a tiger outfit.
In my opinion, though, the season will serve its most salutary purpose when it starts to field brand new work with the author initially unidentified and pitches audiences into territory that is truly without sign-posts.
To November 9, in rep; 0208 741 6850
Show 1 at the Lyric Hammersmith
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 2 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
Madonna might be a stand-up comedy virgin - but she wasn't terrible
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling