Tag Archive | "Three Kingdoms"

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Feature: Secret Theatre – surprise and subversion

Posted on 09 October 2013 by Tom Powell

As the Lyric gears up for Show 3 of its Secret Theatre season, AYT talks to ensemble cast member Billy Seymour about engaging new audiences and taking inspiration from German theatremakers

Photo (c) Alexandra Davenport

Photo (c) Alexandra Davenport

As I’m led up through the Lyric Hammersmith’s redevelopment to a disused office on the second floor, the building seems far from quiet. Artistically, the multi-million pound redevelopment, secured in pre-austerity times, has already created a new creative space – a space filled by the Secret Theatre season. I’m here to interview Billy Seymour about the nature of Secret Theatre. He’s an unmistakably talented actor, and one-tenth of the ensemble special assembled for the season. In a disused office full of crumpled paper plates, where the walls are festooned with posters for Simon Stephens’s play, Morning, Seymour is swivelling on an office chair as he grapples with what Secret Theatre wants to do.

“We want to give a younger audience a different theatre experience, one which they don’t really see in this country,” he explains. It all started with Three Kingdoms, a Stephens play at the Lyric last year, which got mixed reviews but sold out on word of mouth because young audiences were flocking to it in droves. This approach takes inspiration from German theatre – Seymour warms to his theme, describing it in comparison to British theatre as “weird and wonderful. Bigger and bolder. There’s no apologising for anything they do.” There’s a series of statements about what and who should be on the stage, too: the make-up of the ensemble ensures there’s always five male and five female actors, ethnic minority actors and a disabled actor on the stage. There’s a politics of representation, as well as an aesthetic challenge being extended to what they see as the conservatism of the London theatre.

What strikes you as you see a Secret Theatre show is how it prioritises images above language, and rates how the audience experiences the play over their ability to understand it. Nadia Albina spends much of Show 1 suspended above the stage, elegantly spinning round and round as water drains from her midriff. Initially it seems based on a weak visual pun – that everything goes in circles – but becomes a recurring image of the show; a show that is composed of images, vignettes, and dramatic digressions that are at times barely comprehensible. But that is the core of what Secret Theatre is about – surprise and subversion. Seymour tells me the most surprising thing about Show 3, which will be the next show to open, is that rehearsing it “has been like doing a normal show. So far.”

It’s an approach that has proved polarising, both with critics and in the omnipresent sphere of social media. I ask Seymour what a successful Secret Theatre season would look like, and he’s adamant it has already succeeded on its own terms “by attracting the audiences that are coming, and the feedback we’ve had. Obviously some people aren’t going to like it – we’re bringing something new to the table.”

This difference is why it’s important; a genuinely brave attempt to reshape the mould of what is possible on a London stage. Seymour has no doubt that the key to unlocking this process has been time: “‘if you’re doing a four week rehearsal process, you have three weeks to get the character – that’s it. You’ve got one eye on the next job down the line – you can’t take the kind of risks that we’ve been able to take.” Risks such as spending weeks doing every single thing differently, and taking plays that were written by the company’s resident writers with specific actors in mind for specific roles, and casting them differently. Seymour laughs: “We’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve had too much fun maybe.”

Seymour’s route into acting is as unconventional as Secret Theatre itself: “I fell into it. My Dad works on film – I went with him when I was a kid, for a commercial, and the main kid swore at the director. So the director said ‘can we stick your boy in?’ I said ‘no’, my Dad said ‘do it – they’ll pay you’.” His advice? Don’t swear at directors. His earliest memory of going to the theatre is as an actor – starring in Simon Stephens’s play Herons at the Royal Court when he was just 15. It was after Herons that Seymour “realised that’s what I wanted to do”. Perhaps because of the unlikely circumstances that led him to the stage, he seems intent on grabbing every circumstance that comes his way. The reason that he took Secret Theatre is because he “won’t get another opportunity to do it something like it again”. Part of this is the changing landscape for arts funding in the UK: it is government support for the redevelopment and the resulting lack of commercial pressure that has allowed the extravagant rehearsal times of the impromptu Secret Theatre season.

I love the idea of Secret Theatre but I’m yet to be convinced by its practice. Maybe as something new, it needs the space to try and to fail, a time either to grow into itself or for audiences to become more attuned to its weirdness. My worry is that it won’t be given this time or patience, and something as brave and interesting as Secret Theatre deserves it. The final word lies with the company. I ask Seymour if there’s anything he wants to tell AYT readers: “come and see it,” he says, with a grin that bears the unmistakeable hint of a challenge.

The Lyric’s Secret Theatre season is currently booking until 9 November and will return in January. Show 3 opens on 22 October, and AYT is offering five readers the chance to see the show on 24 October, attend a pre-show Q&A and to write about the experience. For more information about this competition visit the competition page, and for more information about Secret Theatre visit the Lyric’s website.


Tom Powell

Tom Powell

Tom's dramatic writing has won the National Radio Drama Award, and the Cambridge Footlights' Harry Porter Prize. He is a co-founder of PinchVanishProductions and an Associate Director of Dippermouth. He is currently enrolled in the Writing for Performance MA at Goldsmiths.

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Book Review: Theatre-making by Duska Radosavljević

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Dan Hutton

Radosavljević Theatre-makingThe title of Duska Radosavljević’s Theatre-making would, you’d expect, refer to professionals who actively do the making, creating works of art for others to experience. And it is, in a big way, about these people. Central to Radosavljević’s argument, however, is the idea that practitioners aren’t the only people who are making theatre. By focusing on work like Tim Crouch’s The Author, Ontroerend Goed’s Internal and Simon Stephens‘s Three Kingdoms, Theatre-making presents the notion of audience as co-creators, so that by the end of this hugely readable study, the title takes on a whole new meaning; all of us are discovered to be theatre-makers, no matter what our relationship is to the piece in question.

The subtitle to Radosavljević’s book is The Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century, which throws up another parallel but not entirely unrelated strand to her argument, as the imagined boundary between a written text and the watched performance is demonstrated to be arbitrary and, eventually, non-existent. By considering the ways in which a text may be “translated” or “transformed” for the stage, Radosavljević destroys the “page to stage” epithet by questioning whether a dictatorial attitude on the part of the text shuns the idea of text and performance as two separate things. One of the main missions of Theatre-making is to deconstruct the idea that “text-based” and “devising” practices are two different things. They have – at least in part – been delineated for political means; the distrust from many mainstream critics with regards to devising practice comes about from the fact that this method has more in common with some Eastern European theatre cultures than our own, representing for some the not-to-be-trusted ‘Eastern bloc’ of a pre-1989 Europe. Radosavljević explains that, due to its original emphasis on collective political action, devised work is seen by many as representative of a defunct and broken system, and is written off as not being true to any ‘author’. When we recognise that this is a false binary, however, and consider how a “theatre language” speaks just as much as the written word, all sorts of possibilities become clear.

In the introduction to Theatre-Making, Radosavljević considers where text-based practices may originate (the pre-1989 East/West divide and theatre education, for instance) and briefly contemplates the idea of a “feedback loop” between audience and performer, which ends up being referred to throughout. Chapter 1 focuses “on the relationship between text and performance in the process of staging a play”, throwing up issues surrounding “adapting”, “translating” or “transforming” a textual artefact into a theatrical production before going into greater detail on that particular idea in Chapter 2. The following chapter then goes on to question the status of so-called “New Writing” in the UK and its various implications, highlighting the ways in which dramaturgical processes threaten to become ideological, and bringing attention to the debate between ‘mainstream critics’ and ‘bloggers’ with regards to Sebastian Nübling’s production of Simon Stephens’ Three Kingdoms at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2012. A rereading of Brecht’s ideas of spectatorship, theory in rehearsals and core intentions in Chapter 4 then questions the relationship between text and performance in verbatim and documentary theatre, bringing back ideas of “translation” with regards to ‘reality’. The final chapter then introduces ideas of “porous dramaturgy”, “being-in-common” and “being together” found (or not) in the work of Ontroerend Goed, Shadow Casters and Tim Crouch in order to “[transcend] the notion of hierarchy between text and performance and [draw] attention to the process of communication and of the meaning being communicated by a mutually constructed theatrical metaphor”.

One idea which Radosavljević comes to time and time again is that of “theatrical genealogies”, whereby we can trace the ‘family tree’, as it were, of any given practitioner or production. By offering up links between, for example, the work of Emma Rice and her experience in Polish theatre, we are thereby able to better understand the ways in which artists ‘talk’ to one another across countries and continents, giving us the tools to create similar links ourselves.

Though academic, Theatre-making is also highly readable, offering clear, concise case studies and – at times – a somewhat playful tone to make its point. Citations and quotes make you want to go and find out the original source, like a book-based Wikipedia, forever moving from one idea to the next so you get lost in this web of theatrical history (there are also absorbing interviews with Tim Crouch and Simon Stephens and a ‘text’ of Ontroerend Goed’s Internal in the form of appendices). Inevitably, this means the actual reading of the book takes longer than you’d imagine from its length, but that doesn’t make it a slog by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, pop cultural references and mainstream criticism are woven among academic literature and complex philosophy in a way which mimics the thrust of Radosavljević’s overarching argument.

At a recent Critics’ Circle Conference, a couple of makers and critics voiced the opinion that the future of theatre is in “co-creation”, both literally and figuratively, which is the same conclusion that Radosavljević comes to at the end of Theatre-making. By showing “a certain interdependence of various modes of authorship in the twenty-first century”, the question of “Who is the ultimate author in theatre?” is posed, which suggests that the age-old British practice of playwright-as-king is being challenged. In 2013 and beyond, we are all theatre-makers, and though there may always be someone in the drivers’ seat, the future lies in a collective body deciding on where the journey takes us.

Theatre-Making is published by Palgrave Macmillan and can be purchased directly through the Palgrave Macmillan website.

Dan Hutton

Dan Hutton

Dan recently graduated with a degree in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a theatre-maker, freelance theatre critic and a company director of Barrel Organ Theatre.

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Writing with Simon Stephens

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Ellen Carr

Simon StephensWhen I meet Simon Stephens he is in the middle of taking over the National Theatre’s (NT) Twitter account for an hour of #askaplaywright. He is running his hands through his hair whilst rapidly dictating answers to a scribe for the occasion. He is ebullient and engaged, and exactly how you’d imagine a writer to be.

“Whatever your job is, do your bloody job,” is one of the best gems of advice he offers me. A Northerner by birth he holds “no truck with not working… what annoys me almost more than ineptitude in anything is laziness”. An hour talking to him will dispel anybody’s impression that to be a writer is not a real job, and if you examine his oeuvre you will know that he is anything but lazy. This is a man who clearly understands what it is to be a writer. He is curious about the world and what it is to be human, and our conversation covers everything from his writing process to men’s toilet behaviour.

A men’s toilet is normally “very functional and very quiet”. In the interval of a performance of his play Port at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in 2002 the opposite was the case, this toilet was “full of people talking to each other” and what they were saying wasn’t good. Stephens’ work has always provoked discussion, and you may know him from last year’s Morning at The Traverse, Three Kingdoms at the Lyric or his adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the NT. Port is now being revived at the NT and I wonder whether it will provoke the same response as the cited 2002 performance, where one elderly audience member proclaimed “my husband lived through the war and that play was worse”.

Apparently “the play gave old people a bad name”, a comment to which Stephens comes back with the statement that “what they don’t realise is life is like that”. His plays are always about starkly real situations, even with expressionistic work such as Three Kingdoms, they “are plays that have fundamentally operated on a kind of psycho realist level”. Recent work has often been seen as very dark and lacking in hope; Port on the other hand is remarkably hopeful and has made Stephens wonder if he needs to regain his optimism. The experience of returning to Port after so many years has been, as he stated on Twitter: “Inspiring. Melancholy. Odd. Exciting.”

Place is very present in Stephens’s work and Port is “a story about a girl growing up and leaving Stockport” which is his hometown. “We see her from the age of 11 to the age of 23 with one apparently small scene played out every two years. The accumulated minutiae of her life gives her her life story of that age”. When asked about this importance of place Stephens responds with the following: “being human carries out on two particular axes. The axis of time is fundamental to the dramatist because it carries with us everything we remember and everything that we anticipate or want, and drama comes out of desire… but the characterstic of space is also very important, we define our sense of self in relation to where we are.”

Stephens is keen to impress, however, that Port isn’t an autobiographical play. Quoting one of his major influences, Sarah Kane, he explains that drama comes from “lived experience, observed experience and researched experience, and on some level you need all three”. There is as much of himself in Three Kingdoms as there is in Port. What he does acknowledge is that with every artist’s work there will be shared obsessions, returned to time and again, spanning all of their output even when every piece of work is extremely different. Stephens admires this in the work of artist Gehard Richter, saying that nothing has inspired him more in recent years than the Tate Modern retrospective of Richter’s work. He has a catalogue from this exhibition that he looks at every morning “just as a reminder of what an artist can be”.

Stephens is also inspired by music, and the musical landscape of 1980s Manchester played an important part in the creation of Port. “I would like my plays to inspire, excite, terrify and alarm audiences in the same way and with the same directness as music does to me”. This seems a fresh and youthful approach, but when questioned about writing plays to appeal to young audiences Stephens answers he doesn’t tend to write with any specific audience in mind: “normally I write for myself and anybody who likes it is a remarkable coincidence”. It’s in this way that the personal seeps into his work, and obsessions that he has spotted cropping up in his work with “tremendous repetition” are questions of “home and honesty”. Whilst we are talking Stephens realises that a new play he is working on “is the first play I’ve ever written that’s about coming home”. This, he puts down to where he is now in his life – married with children and a “sense of security and certainty” as opposed to a restlessness that abounded in his 20s.

I ask Stephens about his writing process; he writes on Word, on a computer with the Internet “looming and waiting for procrastination”. Procrastination is, he says, a useful tool and part of the “mulling process”. How does he procrastinate? By going on the Man United website or by doing “very old fashioned things like reading books”. He describes his process as “mulling, crystalising, writing”. The writing always comes last and “can be a matter of weeks or days even”.

Stephens is full of words of advice for writers, one of the best of which he took from Stephen Jeffreys which is this: “before you read it, print it, with a title page and look at it”. He follows this up by reminding me that not many people can say they’ve written a play; “to have written a play you’re in the top 3% of the world population and it’s worth being fucking proud of”. This is possibly the best piece of advice a young playwright could ever hear.

The National Theatre have created a storify of Simon Stephens’s Twitter takeover; you can view it at

Port plays at the National Theatre Lyttleton until 24 March 2013. For tickets and more information, click here:

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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AYT Editors’ 2012 Highlights

Posted on 31 December 2012 by A Younger Theatre



Eleanor Turney
Managing Editor

Making a four-hour round trip to Stratford-on-Avon might not be the most sensible way to spend a Wednesday, but when the RSC’s A Tender Thing is at the other end, it’s more than worth the trip. Interviewing Edward Bond was a personal highlight, although he remains my most terrifying interviewee to date… Organising the Edinburgh Critics Team with Jake and C venues was wonderful – I’m delighted we were able to offer eight young people the chance to go to the Fringe and to get so much out of their time there. The Chekhov revivals across London (especially Uncle Vanya at the Print Room and The Seagull at Southwark Playhouse) have made me a very happy bunny, and in a year of Shakespeare, Theatre Delicatessen’s Henry V  and Filter Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric are my standout shows. I’ve rounded off the year seeing two wonderful Christmas shows: NIE’s Hansel and Gretel at the Tobacco Factory and Bristol Old Vic’s wonderful Peter Pan.

NT Connections Festival

Laura Turner
Features Editor

2012 has been a busy and really exciting time for the Features sections. We’ve chatted to Michael Grandage, Philip Ridley, Kate Tempest, Steven Berkoff and Jack Thorne to mention just a few. We had our biggest and best yet coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe and over the year our growing team of writers have profiled the work of Simon Stephens, The Paper Birds, English Touring Opera, Northern Broadsides, Edward Bond, the RSC and the Old Vic New Voices – and that’s just the tip of the ice berg as we went behind the scenes at theatres across the country and had exclusive content from the National Theatre Connections Directors’ Weekend.

As Features Editor, there have been so many highlights over the year and it’s been a privilege to work with the AYT team and all the dedicated features writers who invest so much time and energy into the pieces they write, whether they’re interviewing DC Moore, getting the exclusive info on London’s newest theatre or blogging about their experiences of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. On a personal note, I’ve loved some of the recent features I’ve worked on from TheatreCraft to Talawa Theatre Company’s new take on King Lear earlier this winter. In terms of stand out performances, Love Love Love at the Court was pretty unforgettable, as were Sixty Four Miles and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at Hull Truck. I’ve still not seen Matilda – number one aim for 2013!

inside globe theatre

Becky Brewis

Commissioning Editor:

My AYT year was gently ushered in with a few words from Coney practitioners, scrawled on a scrap of paper: “undertaker”. This was one of the theatre company’s famous “days of play”, held at Battersea Arts Centre, where a group of us became immersed in the life of a small town, taking on roles and spreading gossip.  It was a chance to meet people, to interact in new ways and to experiment. Things got raucous but I didn’t have to take out any dead bodies.

For another AYT feature earlier this year I met Fiona Lindsay, the Creative Producer of Digital Theatre Plus to hear about how this brilliant online theatre tool is putting great British theatre on a global stage, by making artistic, high-quality films of stage shows. I got to watch Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong in my own bed. It might not be able to bring it to your bedroom, but Shakespeare’s Globe is similarly keen to extend its reach, as I discovered when I spoke to the Education department’s Jamie Arden about Merry Meetings, the programme that brought seventeenth-century drama to Latitude Festival. They had to fight off the groupies.

Another annual festivity – for those involved at least – is the Old Vic New Voices, 24 Hour Plays, and it was a real pleasure to talk to some past writers, actors, producers and directors about the legacy of the project. I heard how being part of what director Steve Winter describes as the “OVNV family” has shaped them: “I always refer back to the 24 Hour Plays as being the project that made me realise anything was possible,” said Sophie Watson, one of last year’s participants.

And as the year draws to a close it’s looking like anything is possible for AYT too. It was a pleasure to represent AYT at last month’s TheatreCraft conference at the Royal Opera House, where we met so many budding theatre writers. But the main personal highlight for me this year was sub-editing the truly excellent work of the AYT reviewers up in Edinburgh over the summer. At my computer in South London I could practically smell the rancid beer mats, and it was a real treat to have the festival brought to life by such a talented team.


Ryan Ford Iosco
Reviews Co-Ordinator

The reviews section of AYT has grown quite a bit over the last year. Our reviewers now attend shows regularly at venues such as the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre and the Almeida Theatre as well as promoting new/young companies that are just emerging. 2012 saw AYT review our first film, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables (which will be out on 11 January 2013), as well as attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a team of reviewers who covered an unimaginable amount of shows. AYT’s reviewers have been all over the UK and have covered many different aspects of the theatre world this year. As 2012 closes we are preparing for a 2013 that already looks busier and more exciting.

Louise Rennison

Catherine Noonan
Blogs Editor

What have been the best AYT moments of 2012? Well, from a personal point of view, the articles I enjoyed writing the most tend to hail from the beginning of the year: interviewing Louise Rennison, who was both wonderfully mad and incredibly interesting; finding out more about female-led theatre with Shared Experience’s Polly Teale; writing about crowdfunded theatre and subsequently getting my first article published on the Guardian website. There have been many wonderful moments working with AYT’s bloggers: the great content that our regular contributors turn out week after week; connecting with theatre lovers from across the Atlantic; publishing brilliant guest blogs (such as this one and this one). And, finally, I couldn’t round up the year without mentioning how rewarding it is be part of a site that has produced outstanding Edinburgh coverage and collaborated with some wonderful organisations (the Royal Opera House! The Guardian! C venues! TheatreCraft!) So, a big thank you to all of AYT’s editors, writers and readers of 2012. It’s been a pleasure.

 Thomas Ostermeier's Hamlet

Jake Orr
Founder and Artistic Director

Reading through the AYT Editors 2012 Highlights above, I am left immensely proud. When I founded A Younger Theatre in 2009 I had no idea that some three years later we’d be partnering with the Royal Opera House, unleashing a team of critics at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or that we’d pass 8,500 followers on Twitter. AYT is built and maintained by a wonderful team of young people who pour their time, hearts and energy into making it a success. So firstly, a big thank you to all our writers and Editorial Team.

2012 was a curious year for theatre. We saw an influx of German practitioners shaking up British theatre with the likes of Thomas Ostermeier’s HamletSebastian Nubling’s direction of Simon Stephens’s Three Kingdoms and Cate Blanchett in Gross und Klein. LIFT Festival threw up some challenging pieces including Back To Back’s Ganesh vs the Third Reich, and an epic eight-hour performance of Gatz by Elevator Repair Service. In children’s theatre I was transfixed by Little Angel Theatre’s The Tear Thief and Mark Arends’s Something Very Far Away at the Unicorn Theatre. Whilst in Edinburgh I was left weeping at And No More Shall We Part at the Traverse Theatre, and positively bursting with energy at Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer. Let’s not forget the flop that is Viva Forever! which made me question why we even make theatre, terrible, terrible theatre.

In my blogging I found myself questioning how I respond to theatre in an apology to Melanie Wilson, and later considering how theatre and emotion are entwined after the death of a family member. Then there are the numerous events AYT hosted with our readers, including a digital takeover of the Royal Opera House, live blogging The Junction’s Sampled Festival, and two trips to the Old Vic Theatre. We were media partners with C venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and also for TheatreCraft at the Royal Opera House.

Our writers have contributed 905 posts to A Younger Theatre, generating nearly a million pageviews. All of this delivered by volunteers under the age of 26, and showing that young people have a passion for theatre just as much as everyone else. Bring on 2013.

Article image by Jen Collins.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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