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Preview: Opening Skinner’s Box at Newcastle Northern Stage

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Great psychological experiments of the twentieth century

Opening Skinner’s Box
Newcastle Northern Stage
Friday 22nd – Saturday 30th April 2016

A brand new production in the year that celebrates the 20 years of Improbable 

‘Why do we love?  When would we kill? How do we learn?  Why do we believe in the unbelievable? What is memory?  Why do we keep doing things that hurt us?’

These were religious and philosophical questions until about a hundred years ago; then science joined the conversation. According to science, pretty much everything we think about ourselves is wrong.
Inspired by Lauren Slater’s fascinating book, Opening Skinner’s Box is a whistle-stop tour of the scientific quest to make sense of what we are and who we are, told through ten great psychological experiments 
and the stories of the people who created them.

Following recent success with their first ever Shakespeare production, The Tempest, Improbable return to Northern Stage before taking this brand new production to West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Improbable co-founders Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson will co-direct the show. Lee says, “It’s like a really great BBC4 science documentary but with dramatic reconstructions that aren’t embarrassing. It’s the story of the 20th century told through the way we thought about ourselves. I feel a real kinship with these scientists because they want to unpack what it is that makes us humans do what we do, and theatre makers are trying to do that too. But with fewer electrodes.”

Academics from Newcastle University have been working closely with the team from Improbable. Dr Quoc Vuong at their Institute of Neuroscence says, “The stage adaptation of Opening Skinner’s Box presents classic studies in psychology that provide key insights into the human psyche. I have a strong interest in both psychology and theatre so I’m excited to work with Improbable to see how the actors bring these studies to life on the stage, and perhaps get into the minds of the actors themselves as they go through the creative process to adapt the book.”

The cast includes Tyrone Huggins who played Prospero in Improbable’s critically acclaimed 2015 co-production of The Tempest with Northern Stage. He is joined by Alan Cox (The Divided Laing/Arcola), Stephen Harper (Merry Wives of Windsor/RSC), Morven Macbeth (The Train/Imitating the Dog), Kate Maravan (Enduring Song/Southwark Playhouse) and Paschale Straiton - Artistic Director of Red Herring, creators of Funny Peculiar – A Guide to Eccentric Britain and That’s The Way To Do It!  At The New Vic Theatre, Stoke on Trent.

The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University is lead commissioner of Improbable’s Opening Skinner’s Box through its Artist Residency Award programme. The work is co-commissioned by Lincoln Center Festival, New Yorkand the Brisbane Festival where the production will tour later this year.

Improbable is one of the UK’s most inventive companies, from intimate, small scale works such as the seminal 70 Hill Lane, to the pioneering and hugely influential Lifegameand massive outdoor spectacles like Sticky, their work is always highly original and entirely unpredictable. The range of projects in their 20th year shows there is no let-up in the search for new and theatrically exciting ways to tell stories making these shows a fitting celebration of their many achievements.

Opening Skinner’s Box is at Northern Stage 22-30 April. For tickets visit or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.

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