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Opening Skinner’s Box (2016)

  • Venue: Courtyard Theatre
  • Duration: 2 hours 30
  • Age Guidance: 14 + (guidance)
  • Other: Post Show Discussion Tue 10 May
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More Information on Opening Skinner’s Box (2016)

Improbable in co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse and Northern Stage present

Opening Skinner’s Box

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 questions for religion and philosophy till about a hundred years ago. Then science joined the conversation and, according to science, pretty much everything we think about ourselves is wrong.

Inspired by the fascinating book by Lauren Slater, 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.

From the creative team that conjured the ground-breaking successes of Lifegame, The Hanging Man and 70 Hill Lane, Improbable return to West Yorkshire Playhouse with their distinctive, dynamic performance style.

‘Improbable is one of the brilliant forces of British Theatre’
The Observer

‘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. The experiments are extraordinary but the scientists who created them are off the scale.’
Co-Director Lee Simpson

‘This show combines my own strong interests in psychology and theatre, provides a rare opportunity to present major psychological insights on the stage, and promises to inform and inspire the public in matters of broad and deep importance to their lives. I shall be advising on the scientific content of the show and I am greatly looking forward to being involved in the rehearsal process.’
Academic Prof John Lazarus

The Wexner Centre 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 Centre Festival, New York and the Brisbane Festival.

Supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award.

supported_by Wellcome Trust_white



Devoted & Disgruntled: What are the possibilities of collaboration between art and science?

Inspired by Opening Skinner’s Box, there will be a special event on Tue 3 May at Leeds University that explores how art and science can collaborate.

Find out more

Book your free place


Cast & Credits

Based on the book by Lauren Slater / Adapted by Improbable / Co-directors Phelim McDermott & Lee Simpson / Designer Laura Hopkins / Alan Cox / Stephen Harper / Tyrone Huggins / Morven Macbeth / Kate Maravan / Paschale Straiton /


“ Stylish, cerebral and irresistibly compelling, Opening Skinner’s Box is undoubtedly one of the must-see shows of this season.”

- Entertainment Focus

“ This stage adaptation, created by the always inventive theatre company Improbable, [is] more compelling than its source”

- The Times

“ Fascinating”

- Reviews Hub

“ A fascinating, thought-provoking evening’s entertainment is delivered with panache by Improbable”

- The Yorkshire Post

“ a fascinating, if at times alarming, insight into the scientific quest for understanding what it means to be human”

- The Times

“ Two hours of compelling theatre”

- The iPaper

“ Improbable is one of the brilliant faces of British theatre”

- The Observer

“ a veritable Psych101 with all of the classics”

- The Psychologist

“ The cast was utterly compelling, bringing out the human stories behind cold scientific experiments and giving real life and emotion to famous psychologists and their subjects”

- Chronicle Live

“ This is a piece that radiates for its ensemble work”

- Once Upon a Tyne

Book Tickets

Captioned Performance

Open captioning allows theatre goers with varying degrees of hearing to view the full text as it is spoken or sung, including sound effects and off stage noises. These appear on a scrolling screen, positioned on or at the side of the stage.

British Sign Language Interpreted

A signed performance is the usual full production using either the creative use of sign integrated into the performance or a British Sign Language Interpreter on stage interpreting the show for D/deaf attendees.

Audio Described

Audio Described performances are designed to improve the experience of visually impaired and blind attendees. As well as listening to the dialogue on stage the customer can wear a headset and listen to a live description of the action on stage.

Relaxed Performance

A relaxed performance is a specially selected show from our programme, with slight adaptations to make it suitable for an audience of young people or adults with learning disabilities. This may include extra lighting, additional wheelchair spaces and the freedom to move to alternative seating if required.

Dementia-Friendly Performance

Dementia friendly performances are for all audiences. The theatre experience is enhanced for people living with dementia and their supporters, with adaptations to front of house service, the show and pre-show information packs. Additional dementia-aware staff, quiet spaces, clear signage and visual markers, sound and lighting adjustments and flexible seating options all help to create a supportive, shared experience.

Sing Along

Singalong with the cast in this exclusive performance. Join in as loud as you like, fancy dress is optional but highly recommended.

Post Show Discussion

Parent & Baby Performance

A Parent and Baby performance enables parents to attend the theatre with their baby (under 12 months). We make small adaptations to the lighting and sound effects, including keeping the auditorium lights slightly raised. The seating is unallocated and there is a relaxed attitude to noise.

Booking Fees:

*A transaction fee of £1.95 will be applied to all phone and internet bookings.


  • Captioned - Captioned
  • Signed - Signed
  • Audio Description - Audio Description
  • Relaxed Performance - Relaxed Performance
  • Dementia Friendly Performance - Dementia Friendly Performance
  • Post Show Discussion - Post Show Discussion
  • Sing Along - Sing Along
  • Parent & Baby Performance - Parent & Baby Performance
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