“Theatre needs a revolution” and any young company entering the industry today needs to do so with the right intention – the intention for change. So says Steven Green, Artistic Director and revolutionary leader of Fourth Monkey Theatre Company.
In the Japanese story of the Three Wise Monkeys there exists a lesser-known fourth monkey after which Green’s company is named. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” may not be amiss when applied to those with influence over the arts in this country. But Fourth Monkey recognises what’s wrong about British theatre today and, having adopted the fourth monkey’s principle to “do nothing other than good”, seeks to rectify it with its youthful energy and passion.
Bred on a theatrical diet of Harold Pinter, John Osborne and Samuel Beckett, Green sees a need to return to the revolutionary ethos of such work. He feels there’s a lack of challenging offerings in our theatres, and that in order to generate new audiences we must engage with the voice of young people and produce work that is visceral, in-your-face, and able to provoke thought or even action.
It was with such intentions that Fourth Monkey created its first production – A Clockwork Orange at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010. It was an intense, provocative and original production that stunned audiences into marking the company as one to watch. As Green believes in nurturing youthful energy and giving a platform to young voices, the production dealt with how we often don’t engage with and listen to young people. It also had a predominantly female cast – something that marked a playfulness towards convention as part of the company’s brand.
Gender is one of the stereotypes we can expect to see being reimagined in the upcoming production of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, although Green keeps his cards close to his chest as to how. This production is playing in rep from 5th – 23rd October, along with a truly Greek Antigone directed by a Greek director, and a version of The Love of the Nightingale that Green says is so far from what you’d imagine of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s text “it’s just untrue”.
In February we can look forward to a predominantly female Lord of the Flies in another rep season, and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012 we’ll be treated to six Fourth Monkey productions, a mixture of contemporary plays and those devised by the company. All of these seasons form part of the Year of the Monkey, an innovative new training programme set up by the company this year.
Defying convention again, the Year of the Monkey scheme offers an alternative route into the industry by giving 54 actors the chance to train whilst performing in a rep season that culminates in the Edinburgh Fringe shows. The training classes are similar to those you’d find on a foundation course at drama school, but the fees are nowhere near as high and the course embraces a collaborative way of working filled with the Fourth Monkey spirit: evolutionary learning through passionate practice.
“The ultimate test” is how Green aptly describes it, possibly not only for the actors but for the company as well. If it’s a success then Fourth Monkey could be paving the way to a wholy alternative theatre industry.
The Year of the Monkey scheme is aptly named if you consider its astrological meaning; the genius, inventiveness and originality of those born in this year supposedly enables them to solve problems with ease. Perhaps paradoxically, the programme returns to older methods of learning theatrical craft by playing in a repertory company in order to solve the problems faced by the future generation of theatre makers and audiences. The barriers of elitism that are apparent in the industry are just one of the problems being tackled by The Year of the Monkey in both spirit and practice.
There is, says Green, a “genuine question of where the theatre audience and practitioners of tomorrow are”. The answer seems to be, in part at least, with Fourth Monkey Theatre Company. By actively engaging with our theatrical heritage of angry young men and in-your-face theatre, and a repertory way of working that reaches back to Shakespeare and beyond, Fourth Monkey is using the past to write a future for theatre that – without companies such as this – could be somewhat bleak.
With a history of working in drama schools and other such institutions, Green has always valued what he calls the “yes we can” energy of youth. It’s the engagement with this passion that gives Fourth Monkey its contemporary edge, and the feeling that Green is creating a revolutionary army of theatre makers. Reminiscent of the warm up game ‘Can’t Say No’, in which every suggestion made must be played, you get the feeling with Fourth Monkey Theatre Company that anything is possible. If The Year of the Monkey is a success, and the company continues to evolve whilst remaining true to its ethos then it could be doing “nothing other than good” for a long time to come.
The Threepenny Opera, The Love of the Nightingale and Antigone run from 3rd – 25th October 2011 at Theatro Technis, Camden. Performances at 4pm and 7:30pm. More information about the company and its tours here.