Interview: Hannah Samuels, Kiss Chase

Formed in 2017, Second Circle Theatre is an emerging theatre company of three core members and five associate artists, including street performers, musicians, visual artists and devisors. Last year they were finalists of the Pleasance Charlie Hartill Special Reserve, alongside emerging companies Unpolished Theatre and ThisEgg, and their debut show Meeting at 33 premiered to five-star reviews and a sell-out run. This month they’re bringing their second show, Kiss Chase, to The Bunker Theatre as part of the Breaking Out season.

“Our company aims to challenge what a night at the theatre looks like and how it is experienced, and put real people and stories at the heart of our work,” says artistic director Hannah Samuels, who founded Second Circle along with Topher Collins and Zoe Gibbons. “We want to encourage communities to feel connected to each other and individuals to feel less alone, and to create honest, visceral theatre in unique and intimate spaces. We aim to make work that can be and should be experienced by everyone. As a company, by revealing our hopes, fears, obsessions, anxieties and secrets, we strive to make work about the people we care about and the issues we want to scream about.”

Kiss Chase is a part-interactive, part-verbatim speed dating event, which explores the barriers we face when forming relationships, both in and out of love. “Audiences will be taken through a series of interactive tasks/games to develop their intimacy skills – as participants – as well as watching the narrative,” explains Hannah. “We’re inviting them into a world where they are immediately congratulated for taking the leap and entering the unknown. In keeping with our company style, minimal tech requirements and a reduced audience capacity will create an intimate experience for individuals as well as the collective group.

“During the event, the audience will go on dates, talk to characters and listen to songs, as we invite them to look up from their phones and to find commonality in shared experience. The original inspiration for the show sprung from the question: what is it about the pursuit of love that allows us to sometimes be treated badly in order to find it? As the show progressed we came across research calling London the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’ and we wanted to explore why this was and how/if this could be changed. With the rise of online dating, self-help books and the emergence of the Instagram filter, now feels an important time to look one another in the face.

“We’d like our audiences to feel changed in some way by the performance and connected to those they’ve only just met, having been through the experience together, and also to leave questioning what of Kiss Chase was performance and which parts were real. We want to celebrate a world where interactions happen face-to-face, drawing similarities between the ‘live-ness’ of seeing a theatrical event rather than something filmed. We hope to champion the forming of friendships as much as romantic relationships and to challenge who our significant other might be, and to create a shared audience experience celebrating similarities not differences.”

Kiss Chase has been in development since the beginning of 2018, and was still at a very early stage when it was selected for the Breaking Out season. “As with our first show, we always start developing a seed of an idea by doing lots of research,” explains Hannah. “The company have been out and about interviewing people across the country who have shared their stories of love, loss and friendship with us. We have also been going speed dating… a lot. Our associate artists have been involved in the development phase of the process, which is a really collaborative and fulfilling way of working. We’ve been building character through the verbatim interviews and experimenting with the game format of the show, and we’ve worked with Rich Maskey at Potential Difference, looking at ways to integrate technology into the show or to form part of our marketing campaign.

“The Breaking Out programme has quite literally helped us to ‘break out’ and launch ourselves into the industry with our second show, granting us the professional support to secure further funding and exposure as we strive to make life-changing theatre. Having worked alongside other emerging companies through the Pleasance Charlie Hartill tryouts 2017, we were delighted to be offered this opportunity to continue to learn from and support our peers. We are incredibly excited to develop our work with support from such an incredible and intimate venue, and we have already learned so much from the mentorship that’s been offered to us as part of the program. We love how The Bunker encourages shows and companies they work with to take risks and push the boundaries of conventional theatre. It has an incredible reputation for producing a hugely diverse programme and we share a passion for engaging the local community to tackle pressing personal/collective issues, with a unique approach.

“The Bunker is a perfect venue for Kiss Chase, local to us in East London, with a uniqueness and site-specific edge. The intimacy the space invites is amazing – it’s like watching a show in your lounge! Our first show was site-specific in a non-traditional theatre space, so we want to use the environment of The Bunker and all its various nooks and crannies when creating the work specifically for this venue. The mentorship we have already received from David and Josh has been invaluable at this early stage of the company’s growth, and we are really excited about continuing this relationship long after Breaking Out season is complete.”

Interview: Teresa Burns, How It Ended

“The little gardener worked very hard but he was just too little to make a difference. One night, he makes a wish ‘for a little bit of help’ and as he sleeps the local children, inspired by his beautiful flower, help bring his garden to life.”

Photo credit: Eva Sampson
Photo credit: Eva Sampson

So begins the story of Emily Hughes’ The Little Gardener, adapted by How It Ended, in association with Scamp Theatre. Dramaturg and co-artistic director Teresa Burns explains what drew the company to the story:

“We’re big fans of Emily Hughes so we were very excited about the book’s release last year. The Little Gardener felt like perfect subject material for adaptation, particularly outdoor theatre – not only because of its setting but because of its message about community. The story beautifully illustrates the impact an act of kindness can make on a person’s life and how it can inspire them to carry on.

We’d love our audiences to take away a sense of community; a feeling that by working together you can make something really special.”

The play, which is currently touring and free to attend, is set in a greenhouse, containing a real garden. “The greenhouse is interactive in the sense that it can be opened up to allow children inside. Inside the greenhouse sits a large tree (wherein the Little Gardener sleeps) and flower beds – ready for planting! The set is designed and built by James Lewis, who’s done a remarkable job. The set breaks down into 28 pieces and we tour with over 100 flowers.”

Photo credit: Rachel Ferriman
Photo credit: Rachel Ferriman

It’s not the company’s first collaboration with author Emily Hughes. “Last year, we worked with Emily on the stage adaptation of her debut book Wild and we conducted a really successful period of research and development.  We’re hoping to bring Wild to theatres in 2017.

“Emily is such a joy to work with. From day one she has been so warm and encouraging. She isn’t precious about her work and pushes us to delve deeper or go darker, which is really freeing.” 

The fact that The Little Gardener is an interactive show does bring with it an element of unpredictability: “Every audience is different, so we’ve tried our best to prepare for every perceivable eventuality. But of course audiences will always surprise you! Some children are very comfortable with handling plants and getting their hands dirty, whilst others are understandably more hesitant, so it’s about making those children feel at ease. For each performance we have a lovely team of Production Assistants/Gardeners who are there to make sure the audience are happy.”

How It Ended’s goal is to excite young audiences and inspire the next generation of theatre makers. The honesty and responsiveness of children is fantastic. They certainly let you know how they feel about the show whether it be positive or negative – you know where you stand! But making work for young children is boundlessly rewarding, they give back in ways older audiences don’t.

“When we opened the show last week at The Lyric we had lots of children linger around the greenhouse with their parents after the show. They wanted to make comments on the show and ask questions about the flowers and the greenhouse – which was wonderful. It’s great to see them discussing the show, as it hopefully challenges their expectations of what theatre can be.”

Photo credit: Eva Sampson
Photo credit: Eva Sampson

Catch The Little Gardener at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (25th – 26th June), Watford Palace Theatre (2nd – 3rd July), Latitude Festival (17th July) and Stockwood Discovery Centre (29th – 30th July). All performances are free to attend and are non-ticketed. Ages 3+.