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Single Shoe Productions on 'A Disappearing Act'

21st August, 2019

Supported by Arts Council England, we caught up with Single Shoe Production on their upcoming production about a magicians wake and the way in which society examines life and death...

Where did the idea for the show come from and how did it develop?

The idea came initially from listening to a couple of podcasts. One was NPR’s episode “the town that loves death”, about a town in Wisconsin where over 90% of people have an end of life plan. The other came from a TEDtalk about a paramedic who observed a pattern in dying people: in their last minutes of life, the dying usually seek remembrance, forgiveness or meaning.

After researching death and grieving, we consulted with the UK’s only professor of Death Studies Prof. Tony Walter. His insight into death and ritual informed the conceit behind the show: a funeral where the audience are the mourners, the family and friends of the deceased.

The third layer behind the development of the show was the form: Magic. As we researched death, we began to think of it as this disappearing act we all do. Illusion and magic became a necessary element in telling this story and performing a ritual around a deceased magician’s life. So we brought on a brilliant illusion consultant – Christopher Howell – who helped us build bespoke effects and taught us some sleight of hand.

With the support of ACE, British Council, greenhouse seed funding and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the show was developed over the course of two years with some invaluable collaborators and partners including theatre-makers Katharine Marwick, Jon Ferguson and Alex Swift and The Nursery Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Sheringham Little Theatre, Dugdale Centre, Pulse Festival.

Tell us about the form the show will take. 

We really wanted to create a ritual, an immersive experience that went beyond the usual perception of what theatre should be. We wanted to break down the barriers of traditional theatre where so often we, as audience members, sit in an auditorium with other theatre-goers and never interact. With a limited capacity audience, participants often develop a sense of familiarity and community and immerse themselves in the piece. That is key in a participative show.

By playfully exploring how we try to make sense of death, A Disappearing Act aims to promote a conversation about how death itself might prompt us to re-examine how we lead our lives.

How important it is for some shows to surprise?

As a company, we are always trying to create something innovative and new that surprises ourselves and audiences.

The participation of the audience is imperative for this show and means that even we do not know what will happen when the show starts. At the end of the evening, the show that has been performed and the experiences we have all had are just as much a surprise to us as they are to the audience.

The audience will in effect be invited to a wake. How do you expect them to react to the situation or is it just up to them?

There has been a wide array of reactions to the show. Each show is unique but the common reaction seems to be:

“I have never experienced anything quite like this but I am glad that I have now.” And younger audiences get something out of it too as they absolutely love the magic effects.

We have found that it works best if we enter every show with an openness that anything can happen. Every audience is different and it's best for us not to expect anything. Audience members are our scene partners and we don't feel we should go onstage and expect our scene partners to perform in a certain way. That would block possibilities and with this show we have seen that there are endless possibilities depending on who is in the audience any given evening.

How has the tour gone so far?

We are on the tail end of an Arts Council England backed tour of the UK.

Since 2017, we have performed this show in the USA, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. In each of these places, audiences have embraced the theme differently. Naturally some cultures are more comfortable with death then others.

Some audience comments have been:

“Amazing - excellent stage presence and totally immersive theatre.”
“#ADisappearingAct by @single_shoe at @SCTheatre1 was a treat! Brilliantly delivered by a small(ish) cast with really well executed theatrical devices. Warwickians and Bedfordians Go See!”
“A Disappearing Act is like nothing I have experienced before. What a fun funeral it was. May Philip rest in peace. @SCTheatre1”
“A magical way to spend a Thursday evening, at a funeral. Dear old Philip Winterbottom. In loving memory with a wisp of smoke, a sprinkle of glitter & the illusion of life sparkling into the stars. Fun & frolics, enchantingly endearing & as Philip hoped, Worth It.”
“A Disappearing Act’ @ThePlaceBedford this week! Imaginative, engaging, enjoyable and thought provoking! A highly valuable experience for our pupils moving forward to their own devising unit.”

Is part of the idea is to “confound expectations”? Is that how you see it?

I hadn't thought of it in that way, but I suppose we do like to confound expectations, both ours and audiences.

One of our main objectives is to be playful in everything we do. Whether it is in the rehearsal room, onstage or when we are leading workshops. In our experience play often leads to exciting moments where we have no idea what will happen next. This leads to unexpected, surprising and rewarding outcomes for ourselves, audiences and participants.


A Disappearing Act is on Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 September at 5pm & 8pm. For ticket information, click here