Posts Tagged ‘Lyric Hammersmith’


How to create an impossible show – Joel Horwood

Friday, January 9th, 2015 by Tricycle

Lyric Hammersmith Secret Theatre Show 5

Today we welcome A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts dramaturg Joel Horwood as a guest on the Tricycle blog:

Making A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts involved a lot of failure, blind faith and guess work. You can hear Leo Bill and Nadia Albina expand on the process here. So I figured I would write a practical ‘how to’ for a specific part of the process. Steps 1 – 4 should be completed in less than an hour.


Step 1: Select an ‘impossible’ text.

For us ’impossible’ meant Shakespeare.  Shakespeare is impossible for so many reasons; it’s impossible to write as well as he did; impossible to act as well as all those famous actors have acted those words; it’s impossible to even say some of those lines!  ‘To be or not to be’, ‘Out damned spot’, ‘lend me your ears’ they’re impossible because almost every English-speaking person in the world will have heard those lines elsewhere. But also Shakespeare’s characters believably achieve the impossible. They fall in love in an instant, feed dead children to their enemies, and sometimes they even forgive each other.

So, find the most impossible page of the most impossible piece of text and make sure you’ve got it in a format that you can write directly.


Step 2: Edit it.

Having read, re-read and agonised over your text, start editing it. Deface it, reword it, change the font, do anything but be led by your instinct. If a word doesn’t make sense to you, change it. If a character doesn’t make sense to you, make them your own. The aim of Step 2 is to expose your relationship with this material ­ not to improve the scene. Keep track of any and all images, tensions or themes that this process throws up for you as you go.


Step 3: Write your version.

Now, write your version of the same scene. Maybe in your version of Iago gulling Othello, Iago doesn’t speak? Maybe your Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to go through with their murderous plan in public, negotiating purely in subtext. Write your own impossible scene. Quickly. Now. Go.

Lyric Hammersmith Secret Theatre Show 5

Step 4: Create tasks.

Now, rewrite your scene from Step 3 as a list of instructions or tasks. Using the examples I gave above, perhaps you could task Actor 1 (Iago) with making Actor 2 (Othello) do something that’s entirely achievable, but unpleasant, to a member of the audience. Perhaps Actor 1 (Lady Macbeth) is tasked with convincing Actor 2 (Macbeth) that her love for Actor 2 is entirely conditional on Actor 2’s ability to eat as much as possible. These may seem completely stupid as you write them (mine do to me) but they come from an instinctual understanding of the themes of the source material. They are born out of the same foundations so should – hopefully – contain a similar but different negotiation. So perhaps your impossible act at this point is to suspend your inner critic and just write, no matter how bad it seems, just in case it’s useful in Step 5.


Step 5.

Try it all. Try to leave your ego elsewhere and accept that you wrote all of these in less than an hour. They are pure instinct and demand the right to be crap; if any of them are better than bad, you’ve won. Accept that and press print.

I had the luxury of being able to pass my ‘written improvisations’ to the brilliant actors in The Secret Theatre ensemble; people I had grown to know and trust. They would work first on the original ‘impossible text’, then on my edit, then on my version of the scenes before finally improvising around the tasks I had set them. Inevitably, Sean Holmes (director) and the company would be able to spot the nuggets of gold that the actors would create and enabled the company to unflinchingly pursue the scent of whatever we were beginning to find.

It’s a tough process because you inevitably create much, much more than you will ever use and also, because you inevitably create some of the worst writing you will ever, ever write. But even if this process leads you to entirely unusable and awful work, it remains incredibly rewarding to feel even the vaguest sense of collaborating with the playwright who wrote your impossibly good text in Step 1.


A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts is on at the Tricycle from 12 – 31 January, click here for more information and to watch the trailer.