**** (4 Stars)
Lyric, Hammersmith - October, 2013
Unlike many of the reviews relating to Secret Theatre, this review will not reveal the title of Show 2. It can be stated, however, that, even though it is an incredibly well-known piece, it has possibly never been performed like this.
Sean Holmes—artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith—has gained a reputation for producing controversial, hard-hitting plays that spark discussion. This can be seen in the Lyric’s recent productions of Simon Stephens’ Three Kingdoms, Edward Bond’s Saved and Sarah Kane’s Blasted, which won the 2011 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
Secret Theatre certainly continues that trail of controversy. In June this year, Mr Holmes addressed his contemporaries and suggested that the structures of British theatre may be corrupting. Holmes’s answer to righting the wrongs of British theatre is Secret Theatre, an eight-month series of shows created by a company of 20 actors, writers, directors, and designers.
Labelled Show 1, Show 2 etc. audiences are unaware of what they are about to see or who is playing whom. By removing any preconceptions Secret Theatre hopes to open up the minds of the audience. Furthermore, this is all taking place whilst a massive renovation project is carried out at the theatre.
Before the play, the stalls were full of excited chatter and discussion and, after it became clear what we were watching (after only two or three lines), the excitement increased. It is perhaps safe to say that Show 2 is unlike any other adaptation of this classic text.
The first thing that comes to mind is the dramatic change in staging and setting. Designed by Hyemi Shin, the action is contained within three large white walls while the actors make full use of a large stepladder and a wooden box on wheels—here used mainly to represent a ‘bathroom’. The stark amendment to staging meant that there is more focus on the script and what is happening to the characters.
Nadia Albina confidently leads the ensemble of ten actors (in attempts to match the diversity of the Lyric’s audience, Holmes has chosen five women and five men of varying ethnicities). Albina is commanding as well as convincing and offers a sophisticated interpretation of this iconic role—even if at some moments she appears to channel Cruella de Vil.
The male lead is portrayed by Sergo Vares and is perhaps the highlight of Show 2. He is able to express his brutality and dominance not only with his physicality but also with a simple glance. His animalistic nature draws you to him whenever he is on stage; a class act. The ensemble is extremely competent with particularly impressive performances from Leo Bill, Adelle Leonce, Katherine Pearce and Steven Webb.
This is a thoughtful and clever interpretation, carefully constructed by Holmes and undoubtedly aided by a brilliant text. Perhaps this is the reason for its success. Holmes has taken a classic and has played with it to see how far he can stretch it.
Secret Theatre has done exactly what it has set out to do: generate discussion. What is admirable is the bravery of the company, for few theatres would take risks like this. It was a pleasure to be part of an attempt to change the way we think about theatre and I cannot wait to see what else the Lyric has in store.
** (2 Stars)
Lyric, Hammersmith - 21 October, 2013
David Harrower’s new production of Woyzeck playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith has you feeling delightfully uncomfortable from the off set. With a visceral opening representing the dog-eat-dog nature of Buchner’s social play, the company of nine quickly immerse you in the unrelenting nature of the play by viciously fighting over dog bowls! Crazy I know, however, this production certainly does not pull back its punches making a bold statement from the get go.
However, this “bold statement” seemed to be a hinderance rather than help as the production went on. Written in 1839, Woyzeck tells the tale of a soldier who works tirelessly to try and support his family whilst constantly being tormented by his superiors. Because of this, Woyzeck becomes more and more alienated as the play progresses, which leads him to destruction.
The empty nature of the minimalist set coupled with the auditorium being covered in clear plastic gives the feel of an abandoned theatre. Hyemi Shin’s stripped back set design, which uses a colour palate consisting of black and green, is cleverly juxtaposed against the grandeur of the Lyric. This reflects how Woyzeck, a lowly working class soldier, is surrounded by upper-class tormentors. This updated version of Buchner’s play used interesting sound effects throughout at main points, which were used to highlight Woyzeck's mental deterioration throughout the performance. For example, whenever Woyzeck seemed to be confused or he had reached a critical turning point in the story you would hear the faint sound of a helicopter. I felt that this became quite tedious at times as you were focussing on the mosquito like noise of the helicopter instead of the words Woyzeck was actually saying.
The play certainly pushes its actors to their limits, with stunts including aerial work and intensely physical movement scenes you can't help but appreciate the stamina of the cast as a whole. However I did find myself confused at points as I personally didn’t feel that the lead was or ever had been a soldier. Apart from the odd salute there was nothing else in his demeanor that indicated he served in the army. Furthermore, I feel as though the casting contradicted the context of the play. For example, the dynamic between the Drum Major and Woyzeck is that he makes him feel like less of a man. However, the Drum Major was played by a woman, and this was in fact highlighted as he groped her breasts which provoked laughter from the audience. As funny as this was this concept didn’t lend itself well to the clarity of the piece.
The play made some bold statements, especially from the beginning, but this didn’t seem to aid the actual storyline of the play. Woyzeck in itself is hard enough to understand without some sort of background knowledge, however at times it felt as though the production was being abstract and weird for the sake of it without aiding the development of the story - making it even harder for younger audiences to understand the characters journey.
Show 1 of Secret Theatre is showing at The Lyric, Hammersmith until 9 November 2013. Tickets available here: http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/secret-theatre/
**** (4 Stars)
The Lowry, Manchester - 21 October, 2013
What can I say? I was blown away by the performance I received on the opening night of A Clockwork Orange at The Lowry, Manchester. Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, her clever ideas on her fascination with how the male species behave are incredible and this is clearly shown in her intention of using an all-male cast. We follow the journey of 15-year-old Alex played by Adam Search, who enjoys violence, rape, drugs, and Beethoven’s 9th symphony. He and his gangs of droogs cause rampage on the streets and eventually Alex is locked and is the experimental animal of Dr. Brodsky who is testing his treatment to get rid of Alex’s feelings of violence.
The piece of theatre explores many genres of music to create an intense atmosphere to engage the audience throughout the performance. The use of a minimalistic set and props interestingly works, as his performance uses a lot of dance and movement to produce the action, and the use of orange, blue and white spotlights is excellent.
Jones has male actors playing female parts, which adds a new dimension of sexuality and humour, which lightens up the piece when contrasting to the serious issues concerned with the piece which relate to the present day. The cast has a fantastic passion, buzz and vibe and audience interaction, which is definitely noticed. It is a highly stylized piece of physical theatre that is a rollercoaster for the audience, making them experience a range of emotions. I felt uneasy but intrigued when they were exploring issues of rape and violence. The piece is dramatic and there are moments where I wanted to experience more feeling and emotion. However this does not affect the piece, which is astonishing overall and I would recommend anyone who gets the chance to see it, to go!
All the elements of the piece fuse together really well and work smoothly, just like the transitions between each scene. The detail and articulation into everything has made my final conclusion a very clear one, and this is why I walked out the theatre with a smile on my face. To sum the piece up in three words it would be: dynamic, stunning, and breathtaking.
The Clockwork Orange is showing at The Lowry, Manchester until Saturday 26 October 2013 (suitable for ages 16+). Tickets available here: http://www.thelowry.com/event/a-clockwork-orange
We are extremely excited to announce our national auditions tour 2014!
We would LOVE to see many talented young performers and/or musicians aged 11-21 at one of our audition dates. Our 2014 tour will take place next January and February and our teams will travel to 22 cities across the UK. Auditions take the form workshops lasting two and a half hours and places are limited but we will be holding up to three sessions per city. So, now it’s over to you to sign up for your chance to audition for a part in a YMT production.
We will be pulling out all the stops for our 2014 programme as it shall be our 10th anniversary year! We will be presenting at least eight productions in cities from London in the south to Aberdeen in the north. Our programme of productions announced so far for 2014 include Macbeth, Miss Interpreted and Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music. Our full programme will be released within the next few months.
YMT productions are two-week residential projects that take place all around the country. There is no need to prepare anything for your workshop audition however here’s some great advice from YMT Practitioner, Yael Loewenstein (auditions panel 2013).
- Arrive prepared: dressed appropriately and a bit early to do a personal warm-up.
- Remember the panel wants to like you!
- Have a 'yes' attitude and be prepared to try new things.
- Remember everyone is in the same boat: everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Share your strengths and have the attitude of improving in weaker areas.
- Ask questions
And if you want some more tips and advice, watch our alumni talk about their experiences at YMT - singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Channel 4's Fresh Meat actress Charlotte Ritchie and Loserville the Musical’s Richard Lowe.
Wishing you lots of luck and we look forward to seeing you at your YMT audition!
YMT's Ryan Heenan talks to us about what it’s like to audition for drama schools as well as his experience at YMT.
After taking part in several YMT shows – including this year’s Variété as well as the lead in the 2012 version of Terry Pratchett’s Mort The Musical – Ryan Heenan has just started at Central School of Speech and Drama, where he is doing the BA (Hons) Acting course, with the Musical Theatre pathway. He was also successful in his applications for Mountview, Arts Ed, and Guildford School of Acting! We spoke to Ryan about what it’s like to audition for drama schools as well as his experience at YMT.
Which drama schools did you apply for?
I applied for: the Central School of Speech and Drama, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, Arts Ed, Guildford School of Acting (GSA), Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and the one-year course at the Royal Academy of Music. I’d always wanted to do drama; I’d never really thought about applying to university.
When did you apply?
I was quite strategic about it. You don’t want to seem too eager and rush your application, but you don’t want to leave it until the last minute either. Some of my friends applied in September or October and got through to the final rounds, but they weren’t offered places because the drama schools didn’t know who would audition in the future. I applied in my last week of school in December. That way I could relax over the Christmas holidays and then had my auditions in January and recalls in February.
How do you apply?
It’s different for every school. I applied to GSA and Central through UCAS, which is a bit weird for drama schools because you get emails from UCAS saying when to audition, rather than directly from the institution. Arts Ed and Mountview are both done privately: print it off, fill it in and send it to them directly. The Royal Academy of Music and RCS use CUKAS – the Conservatoires Admission Service UK.
What were the auditions like?
It all depends on your course. There tends to be about 100 people a day. The ArtsEd and Mountview auditions were all in one day. After that day you don’t audition again and you hear within two weeks whether you’re in or not. Central’s was a bit crazy: there were about 120 people there and then went down to 17 at lunchtime! We were split into groups and then they told us which pathway we would be recalled for – whether it’s pure acting or musical theatre etc. At central they’ve also got a devised and collaborative theatre course.
I was inevitably nervous, but I dealt with it by sipping water – the adrenaline was sort of a good thing. I’d say, generally, that it’s much harder to be a girl auditioning for drama schools.
What did you have to do in your audition?
Every school wants something different and they all ask you to prepare different things. I ended up preparing four or five songs and up to eight monologues. Central have their own list of Shakespeare monologues and they can be very specific. Every school is looking for something different. You get an idea about the schools from their students and the sorts of shows that the schools put on. So, for example, you may want to do something more modern for Arts Ed whilst others want something a bit more traditional.
What songs did you do?
I did "Lost in the Wilderness" from Children of Eden and for a more traditional song I did "Younger Than Springtime" from South Pacific.
Guildford had list of songs, so I did "Maria" from West Side Story. It was interesting because they had a list and songs that you’re usually told are too obvious for auditions. If you do an obscure song, though, there should be a healthy balance between traditional and obscure. Don’t sing anything from Les Mis because that’s so obvious, but equally if you go too obscure it could be bad. They’ve heard "On My Own" too many times. If stuff is really obscure, there’s usually a reason it’s obscure. However, there are some songs that you think are too obvious, but if it suits a person it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Did you have to dance?
At dance schools like Laines, Millennium and Urdang you tend to have to prepare a one minute dance solo with your track and you have to do jazz, tap, and ballet classes. So I didn’t audition for those! I did dance workshops where you go in do a warm-up and they watch you and teach you a short routine.
How do you feel your auditions went?
The examiners don’t let anything on. I had a few auditions where I know I messed up, but the panel very rarely engage or give anything away, even if you’re doing a comedic monologue. They might give you an awkward smile. You go away thinking ‘I have no clue how that went’.
How long did you have to wait to hear back from the schools?
They take their time with their final decision. They tend to be quite quick with their recall, it can be a week. With their final decision, it tends to be it can be a bit longer up to three weeks; Central took a month with mine.
Do you think YMT helped you?
Yea, I do. It opens you up. It’s not like other people coming to auditions, who have only done classic musicals like Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes. They’re probably very good productions, but with YMT you get to do new and interesting stuff and you get to work with professionals. It makes you grow and sort of appreciate it more.
What is your favourite YMT moment?
I don’t know. I think, maybe because it’s recent, but the last night of Variété was really special. I think as a cast we were all really close and there was no one who doubted the show. Everyone was really into it. When we got to the last show, we were like, ‘this is the last time, let’s go out and give them a great show’.
What was it like working with the creative team?
It was crazy, in a brilliant way.
What three pieces of advice would you give to our young people thinking of drama school?
- Preparation is key! There’s nothing worse than being nervous and learning the lines the night before. Everything’s going to go wrong. Be prepared! Don’t be worried about over-working a piece. Just keep at it and finding new thingss
- Be really open, they can throw anything at you to see how you react. Go in open-minded. For example, if you’re doing a monologue and they sense that you’ve done it like that loads of times, they’ll probably throw something at you and see if you can take direction and respond well. They’re not looking for the finished product; they’re looking for potential!
- You don’t have to give up if you don’t get a place. The students show us around at the schools told us that they got in on their fourth or fifth time auditioning. It’s difficult. You have to be able to take rejection and let it make you stronger.
We wish Ryan the best of luck at Central and we hope he mentions us when he wins his first Olivier or Tony!