A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts combines Shakespeare, lemons and a game of strip-wrestling. Every performance is different because the protagonist of the show is picked from a hat by an audience member. This is the fifth production from Secret Theatre. The Company, formed at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2013, brings together ten actors and ten directors, writers, designers and dramaturgs.
Actor Hammed Animashaun explains that in the Company’s eight week devising process they had a different topic each week including hope, life and sex. Hammed says, ‘we had all this material and we thought why can’t we do a show where the performers don’t know what’s going on?’ First of all the show revolved around picking themes out of a hat that would determine the structure of the show. This evolved into randomly picking the protagonist.
The Company puts the protagonist through a series of endurance exercises. These include eating a whole lemon, holding hands in an ice bucket and attempting to move objects by telekinesis. Much of the show is improvised. ‘The idea of not knowing what’s going to happen in front of a live audience is pretty terrifying’, Hammed explains.
The show is exhausting, physically and mentally. ‘Because you’re so tired things start coming out of your mouth. You look back and think, ‘Where did that come from?’’ There are some nights, Hammed says, when he’s just a little bit grateful not to be picked as the protagonist. ‘You want to take the opportunity to have the night off!’ Hammed says some patterns have emerged out of the randomness. ‘Adele has done it more than anyone. But Billy has only done it maybe 5 times since we opened. He’s the only person who hasn’t done it enough.’ One section of the show involves the performers snogging each other. I ask Hammed who the best kisser is. He thinks for a second. ‘Sergo. He’s the best kisser. Without a doubt.’
Throughout the night the protagonist is asked what the show is about. Each new answer jolts the trajectory and meaning of the play for both performers and audience. ‘There was a time on tour when I was the protagonist three times in a row. One show was really serious and deep, one I couldn’t be bothered because I was so tired, and the third was really light hearted and funny. They were all completely different.’
The protagonist has to answer a series of questions about their love life. How much of it is true? Hammed considers. ‘It depends how much the performer wants to share. The show is all about putting yourself out there in front of an audience, but not necessarily as an actor. There are moments when you’re acting, but there are also parts when you are honestly telling the truth.’ This importance of truthfulness harks back to Sean Holmes, the Company’s director, who in an interview with Matt Trueman in 2013 said that their aesthetic is about honesty. ‘We’re just humans on a stage’, he said. In Show 5 the audience walk into a fully lit room with the actors already onstage. ‘You’re not seeing actors perform, you’re just seeing us being ourselves’, Hammed explains.
Every audience is different. When I ask if anyone has every joined in with the Proud Mary dance routine that closes the show, Hammed laughs. ‘Oh yeah, definitely. One time in Edinburgh we had a full house and there was a family who had never seen the show before. They enjoyed it so much the little boy just got up and started dancing. It turned the show into a party’.
The play contains strip-wrestling matches. Hammed reveals that while no one has been stripped entirely naked (yet) it has come close, although nakedness was taken further in the devising process. ‘During rehearsals we came up with a dance routine that involved Leo being completely naked for half an hour. We just got used to it.’ Hammed is clear that what he has gained most from Impossible Acts is bravery. ‘As we got closer to the show the idea of being possibly naked in front of however many people didn’t really bother us anymore.’ He says the extremes it takes them to has made the Company closer. ‘The fact that we’re brave enough to do a show like this speaks volumes. We’ve become more confident and stronger emotionally.’
But not everything gets easier. However many times you eat a lemon, Hammed says, it always hurts. ‘It feels like it gets harder. I’m going to keep trying but I’m not getting my hopes up.’
A Series of Increasingly Impossible Events was at the Tricycle Theatre Thursday 15, Tuesday 20 & Tuesday 27 Jan. More details can be found here.