The theatrical secret’s out at West Yorkshire Playhouse

The cast of Secret Theatre who are currently presenting several plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
The cast of Secret Theatre who are currently presenting several plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
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I’d like to tell you about the latest show at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but it’s a secret. Literally.

Secret Theatre by the Secret Theatre Company is the brainchild of highly acclaimed director Sean Holmes. It is a ground-breaking idea which brings together a company of 20 writers, directors and performers to create original shows. The resulting work arrives at West Yorkshire Playhouse this week direct from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival.

Visitors to the Playhouse can expect to see a mix of A Streetcar Named Desire, Glitterland, Woyzeck, A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts and Show 6. Holmes says: “There are two influences that led to Secret Theatre, one practical and one artistic. The practical reason is that the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith which I run as Artistic Director has been undergoing a capital transformation and it has restricted the way we can use our auditorium, so we needed to find a new way of working around this. The other is an artistic impulse brought about by a co-production of a show by Simon Stephens, Three Kingdoms. It was directed by a German director, had an Estonian designer, a British writer and actors from all three countries speaking three languages – and it was amazing. One of the things that was amazing was the different quality of acting that the different actors from each country brought; what you noticed was that both the German and Estonian actors had a shared understanding as they came from permanent companies. It’s very rare in this country now to have an ensemble of actors, so we thought let’s get a company together.”

When the shows originally opened at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, the titles were not announced in advance and audiences went into the theatre without knowing what they were going to see. The idea was for the theatre to disturb the culture of audiences knowing exactly what to expect.

Holmes adds: “What we’re bringing to the Playhouse is a mixture of work: two classic plays, done in ways that you won’t have seen before, a new version of an old play, a new play by Mark Ravenhill written specifically for the company and a devised play which I think could only have been made by people who have been working together for a year.

“Our intention was to do work that demands the audience to have a different attitude. Rather than trying to get a collective response it’s also about the way that the audience makes their own decisions about what’s going on.”

As well as the shows themselves, which audiences can buy tickets for on an individual basis, a number of discussion events are taking place at the Playhouse as part of the Secret Theatre season with the company and Sean Holmes.

Holmes says: “The nature of the Playhouse really suits this work. We’ve worked closely with each theatre to tailor what we bring in to the demands of that city. What’s exciting for an audience is that you can come and see one show, but what happens is that people become really interested in what we’re doing. There’s something really rewarding about seeing the same group of actors not just do more than one play but with really different form and nature.”

• Secret Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, various shows, various dates, to September 27. Tickets and information 0113 2137700.