A ripple of controversy

With a ripple of controversy, artistic director of the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Sean Holmes, has set out a new way of working for the west-of-West End venue over the coming months.

The impact of the building extension programmed for the theatre has been the catalyst for the new approach which provides a pragmatic as well as artistic response to the challenge of creating theatre on a building site.

On a practical level, the existing auditorium, which remains unchanged by the extension project, will continue to be used with access via rear entrances and a goods lift, but Holmes's "provocative and cocky… gesture" delivers its punch with a new artistic approach brought about by long–brewing considerations explained in his speech to the Critics' Circle a couple of weeks ago, itself an interesting read.

He said, "things we thought of as rules were merely assumptions, and assumptions that had become so ingrained we didn’t even notice them anymore. You can only work within the structures that exist. So we decided to challenge these existing structures."

The outcome of this free, or at least freer, thinking is a company of ten actors working with four writers and two directors over nearly a year. One designer, one lighting designer, one sound designer and one dramaturg complete the team. The programme will comprise classics, adaptations and new plays.

Cast– and venue–specific writing, longer rehearsals and playing in repertory together with, "releasing the spirit of the text whilst gleefully disregarding the letter of the text makes this endeavour unique," according to Holmes.

What may prove the more overt difference to audiences is the profile of the performers. Holmes tells us, "with a company split equally, there will always be five women and five men on stage. There will always be black actors on stage. There will always be a disabled actor on stage".

If cobwebs being blown away made a noise, might it sound something like this.

The change in approach reaches still further: the relationship with the media is also different. There is to be no publicity as we know it—celebrity casting is clearly out, no tag lines that tell us the whole story before we've heard a word, no formula epitomized in a logo a photo, and I dare say no vintage pop songs; productions will be called Show 1, Show 2 and so on—"take a chance on me" it tauntingly flirts.

The scheduling remains loose and there will be no press nights in the traditional sense, with single tickets for reviewers being limited and offered across the run of each show due to space constraints. With press tickets issued on a first come-first served basis, critics may find themselves having to reconsider their priorities and approach to scheduling, not to mention their own ingrained assumptions.

The same applies to the Theatre's audience too. Those who buy a ticket sight-unseen may be simply blasé, returning a little arrogance with arrogance, or they may be on the start of an exciting journey, minds and hearts open, from which they will return changed.

They might need to be a bit of both—Sean Holmes says he hopes "even if you hate it, you can’t ignore it" and "that even if you love it, it scars you".

Booking is now open for Shows 1 and 2. All tickets are a single price and seating is unreserved. For further information and booking visit the Lyric web site.

The full text of Sean Holmes's speech is available to read below and highlights are available to watch on YouTube.