Review: Opening Skinner’s Box

Review: Image taken from Opening Skinner's Box at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Review: Image taken from Opening Skinner's Box at West Yorkshire Playhouse
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A fascinating, thought-provoking evening’s entertainment is delivered with panache by Improbable. And you can’t accuse the company of a lack of ambition – in Opening Skinner’s Box they are tackling themes that get right to the core of what it means to be human.

Inspired by Lauren Slater’s 2004 book, the piece – part-performance, part-lecture – explores the mysteries of the human psyche through a well-paced tour of ten great psychological experiments of the 20th century.

Why do we fall in love? How does memory work? Would we step in to help someone in danger? Would we inflict pain on someone simply because we are told to by an authority figure? It also covers parenting, bonding, the importance of community, believing in the unbelievable, addiction, learnt behaviour and why we keep doing things that hurt us. So, not your average night out at the theatre.

There are moments of humour and recognition as well as genuine dismay – such as the appalling statistic that 65 percent of people would administer an apparently fatal electric shock to another person if they were ordered to do so and the disturbing fact that the more people who witness a violent act, the less likely it is that someone will offer assistance.

The ensemble cast of six – Kate Maravan, Morven Macbeth, Paschale Straiton, Tyrone Huggins, Alan Cox and Stephen Harper – dressed as boffins in suits, move seamlessly from delivering ‘white-coat’ pronouncements to playing lab rats and monkeys, while slick direction from Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson (Improbable’s co-artistic directors) keeps the action flowing and the audience engaged.

An accomplished production elegantly realised.

At West Yorkshire Playhouse, to May 14.

By Yvette Huddleston