A theatrical experiment

Lost Without Words

A co-production with the National Theatre

4-18 March 2017
National Theatre – Dorfman Theatre
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If we don’t get lost, how can we find a new route?
Joan Littlewood

Imagine older actors in their 70s and 80s, actors who have spent their lives being other people, bringing life to other people’s words. Imagine they were on stage with nothing but themselves and no words but their own. No script, no map, a different show every night, all they have is a lifetime of theatre to help them find their way.

Georgine Anderson
Caroline Blakiston
Anna Calder-Marshall
Lynn Farleigh
Charles Kay
Tim Preece
Directed by Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson
Lighting Colin Grenfell
Music Steven Edis
Photography Chris Arthur

It all started when Phelim was passing a coffee shop in Twickenham.
“I recognised a brilliant actor I’d seen in plays at the Royal Exchange in Manchester when I was taken there as a kid. I took a chance, introduced myself and told him what a fan I was. We chatted for a bit and I asked what he was doing now.”
“Not theatre any more. Too old lad, too old.”
At about the same time the press had stories of high profile actors saying that their theatre days were done. We felt sad that all these great actors who had spent their lives in the theatre now felt that the stage was no longer their home.
It seemed that the problem was theatre built around the ‘play’ – not so many parts for older actors, learning the words takes longer, the physical demands of rehearsal and performance, the worry they’ll be asked to do something they can’t quite do any more – there were lots of reasons why older actors and the theatre drifted apart.
So, as a kind of joke, we said that if it was plays that were the problem we should teach them to improvise. No lines to learn, no stage directions to follow, and no one would ever ask them to do something they didn’t want to. We stopped. Looked at each other. It wasn’t a joke, it was exactly what we should do. So we did.
The National Theatre got as excited as us about the idea and we put together a company of brilliant dramatic actors. Some are still very active in the theatre, others less so, but all of them, having spent 50 or 60 years bringing life and meaning to other people’s words have now taken on the challenge of stepping onstage with no words at all. With nothing but themselves and their craft.
We know that ‘improv’ is often comedy. Not this. It might occasionally be funny it might not. In fact it’s not even a show really, it’s an experiment. What scenes will these older people create? What stories will they unfold? What might they tell us about what awaits us all at the other end of life? 

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