Catherine Love: Having now seen A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts four times (yes, really), there are two moments that continue to jump out every time, still surprising and delighting me again and again. Inevitably, here follow spoilers.
The first is the point in the show at which exhaustion takes over and any traces of “performance” crumble to expose the fragile individual beneath. The protagonist and another company member lie sprawled on the floor, as the latter asks the former questions from a sheet of paper. One of those questions is “are you pretending now?” The answer is invariably “no”. The second is the sheer, undiluted bliss of Proud Mary, as the whole company dance with gleeful, knackered abandon. Each time, it takes every last ounce of self-restraint not to leap up and dance with them.
What I love about both moments is their unapologetic messiness and the occasional glimpses they can offer of something unfiltered and real. Because that’s what really keeps me coming back to this show: the shared admission that we are flawed, messy, complicated people, and perhaps we can’t ever really understand one another, but we can bloody well keep on dancing.
Dan Hutton: Whenever I think of A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, I think of the ‘big’ moments: the dance to Foals; the hand in the ice bucket; the routine to Proud Mary. But, after seeing it three times (damn you Catherine for beating me), one scene which makes me almost weep on every occasion is the one in which one company member asks questions to the protagonist which starts out at an invitation of a date and ends with the culmination of a life. It’s like Lungs, but improvised and in two minutes, as we span the entirety of human experience and the lengths to which we may or may not go for our loved ones. You watch the protagonist try to work out what happens, and though they must know what’s coming every time, there are still questions which take them by surprise.
The writing of the questions is invigorating (cheers Joel Horwood), but so too are the made-up responses; the protagonist (Billy, Leo and Stevie the times I’ve seen it, with the latter utterly breaking me) is at a stage when they’ve long-stopped ‘acting’ and say literally the first thing that comes to their head, which might be deeply sad or deeply funny, based on reality or completely made up. What you want in theatre, I guess, is a collision of reality and fiction, but this is one of those rare moments when the two crash into each other so beautifully that it becomes about the act of presenting theatre itself and all the ramifications that holds.
Stewart Pringle: It’s been hard to stay spoiler-free since Show 5 previewd at the Lyric in May. There’s been a lot of running out of rooms with fingers in ears like that episode of The Likely Lads . But somehow, walking into the theatre three months later and a few hundred miles north of Hammersmith, the only things I was really confident of were that the show’s at least partially improvised, and that most of my friends have seen it, like, thirty times.
I’ve been a little ambivalent about Secret Theatre all in all. Not that I have any particular problem with the project beyond it having a slight air of cliqueyness that isn’t entirely justified or accurate. I just haven’t enjoyed many of the shows. For every Streetcar, which was awesome, there’s been a Glitterland or a Show 6 (does that have a title yet?). Leaving Kings Hall after A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, that’s all changed. It’s the show that has, for me, made it all worthwhile. It’s a statement about an ensemble, and where that ensemble becomes a community, and hence what community and society are good for. When life in late-capitalism can feel like one impossible act after another, this group of beautiful, talented individuals demonstrate that we’re better together in a messy, spiky, brave group hug that has altogether too much lemon munching to be mawkish.
It was Nadia Albina in the spotlight when I saw it, so there was the extra thrill of seeing the actor who played Blanche DuBois throwing herself into a wrestling match with her demons or cramming herself into a suitcase. She’s as open and compulsive performer here as she was in Streetcar, and her slight frame makes her battle with the frigging stacked Hammed Animashaun feel all the more improbable, and all the more stirring.
When Sean Holmes spoke to Matt Trueman last June, he spoke about how ‘fucking furious’ his version of Streetcar was going to make people because ‘Blanche can’t have one fucking arm; her sister can’t be mixed race.’ So in a way ‘Increasingly Impossible Acts’ have been what Secret Theatre is all about from the start: Increasingly Impossible Acts made increasingly possible, increasingly present and increasingly commonplace in our theatrical world, by an extraordinary community of performers.
Natasha Tripney: I’ve seen then twice over the course of the Fringe. The first time was back at the beginning when the white board behind them was still pristine. Katherine Perace’s name came out of the hat and her performance – if that’s the right term for it, because arguably one of the most exciting things about this is the way it explores the territory between the performed and the lived – was buoyant. Even at her most exhausted, and she did look pretty fucking knackered at points, there was a humour and a warmth to her which made the piece in turn feel very large-hearted despite the abuse she received.
Second time around and Leo Bill was wearing the cape and the experience was so much more intense. For one thing we’re already two weeks into the Fringe now and they all look a bit battered, physically, emotionally. Leo already had scratch marks on his back and a bandage on his arm. By the mid-way point he looked broken. There was actually one really queasy moment, following a particularly furious bout of wrestling with Nadia when it looked as if one or both of them had drawn blood which started to make me question the whole exercise – but it turned out to be lipstick.
Bill has a natural intensity as an actor but some of those dialogue sequences – as he stood there, stripped of his clothes, standing in his pants and struggling to catch his breath, to formulate coherent responses – were so incredibly raw, and so, so vulnerable – and at the end when they all gathered together to pick him up, to lift him high, it was magnificent.
What became beautifully clear on second viewing is just how much this show is about connection and cooperation as it is about exposure and humiliation and actors testing themselves. And I’m so very glad I went along to see it with friends, to experience it together, to share it with them, because this is an experience that needs to be shared.
Lack of Fitness
Nearly losing my finger
These words are scrawled on the board by the end of the early performance I watched, the words each protagonist has shot back instinctively when asked “what’s this show about?”. A collage of the trivial and the profound, affirming sentiment and raw vulnerability, the list reflects just what a multilayered, mutating beast this piece is.
As my first Secret Theatre show, Impossible Acts is a fascinating introduction to the ensemble since it feels so much an expression and a celebration of the work they’ve made together. Rather than a novel experience of seeing actors I recognise as Woyzeck or Stella Kuwolski “off-duty,” it’s the lens through which I’ll see the rest of the body of work, and inform my sense of the kind of stuff this bold, not-so-secret-anymore company are doing when I sit down to watch the more straightforward shows.
But although its live improvisation and formal play reflects the group’s dynamics and collaboration, this isn’t one big meta-masturbation, or even just theatre about theatre-making. The wince-inducing pole-vaulting, lemon-eating and roughly hewn together scenes are the most powerful dramatisation of the “fail better” philosophy I’ve seen onstage – something we all need when it comes to our own practice, our theory and the way we live our lives. .