Phileleftheros by Theo Adams Company


 by William Alderwick


At once ridiculous, sublime, visceral, heartbreaking, hilarious, joyful, naive, brutal and shambolic, Theo Adams' performances aren't quite like anything else. A vulnerable young slip of a boy stands near naked before you, mouth still a tangle of braces, showered in glitter and white paint or black sand. Tears streak down his mime's face, contorted into an agonizing silent howl one moment only to be transformed into beatific wonderment the next. Un-choreographed and un-rehearsed, Theo's spontaneous improvisations and extreme emotional expression combines the influences of high art and popular culture as one, of classic Hollywood musicals by the likes of Bob Fosse or Busby Berkley together the modern expressive dance of Pina Bausch, all within a soundtrack of show-tunes and classic pop kitsch. Already a global phenomenon, having performed in galleries across Europe and in New York, Theo curated and headlined a night of performance at London's prestigious Tate Britain in conjunction with the !WOWOW! art collective and has even appeared in a reality TV show, called 'Singing with the Enemy'.

William: You’re half Cypriot. Could you tell us about your family’s roots in Cyprus, have you ever visited?


Theo: I haven’t been there for ages. I’m going in a few weeks for the first time in ten years, which will be quite good. Both my grandfather and my grandmother come from the north side, which is now obviously the Turkish side but this was before the invasion. It will be quite nice as it’ll be the first time I’ll actually go to their villages. I don’t know the exact Greek names but apparently they all look like potatoes in my Grandfather’s village. Greek culture has been a big part of my life; especially growing up, music especially has been quite a big influence on me.

W: Your great grandfather was a priest and you’re descended from a line of priests. Do you see a connection between that and what you are doing?


T: Well, I don’t know. My family are not really performers. My mum and my dad are from quite an academic background; they’ve both got PhDs. So it was like, ‘where have you got this from?’ They’ve always thought that it’s from this long line of priests. Because it is performance. If I was around back then, 200 years ago in some small village in Cyprus, I’d have probably wanted to be a priest, to have a little performance every Sunday. The outfits are great as well. It is quite dramatic, especially the Greek Orthodox, far more dramatic than being a vicar in some small village here.

W: Do you think that there is a link between art and religion?


T: For me I find religion in itself to be quite a weird concept, I can’t really understand it. I’m not religious at all, but I’m still spiritual. I find art a spiritual process in a lot of ways, especially performance. When I perform I almost go out of my body. It’s a different experience, quite cleansing on the mind and I guess it’s almost a religious experience. That’s why I’m so obsessed with religion. I spend hours looking at gospel churches, sermons and healers. It’s quite similar to a lot of my performances. These people being ‘healed’, going out of their body, and spasming. I find that quite fascinating. So I guess I’m quite influenced by religion but I don’t think art necessarily has to be religious. I like all of that but I find organized religion quite bizarre and scary.


W: What do you see as the relation between the high arts, the avant-garde like Pina Bausch in your performances, and the more trashy popular culture mimed Bistroteque show element to what you’re doing with the music soundtracks?


T: Well for me I don’t believe in high art and low art. I don’t believe in good culture and trash culture. To me it’s the same, it’s just the way people look at things. People easily dismiss things because they’re sparkly, and I think that’s completely ridiculous. I mean there’s a lot of things that are supposedly high culture that is a load of shit and I’d much rather go and watch the Eurovision song contest. I think a lot of people think my influences are ironic, but I don’t really believe in the irony in it. I see things are ridiculous but I also think going and seeing Pina Bausch, the whole stage covered in mud, everyone’s smothering in it and having spasms, is just as ridiculous as someone in the Eurovision song contest singing about their high heels. To me it’s exactly the same and I see things that are extreme, the extreme high culture and the extreme low culture, as a circle that meets at the top. The things I’m not interested in are the mediocrity and rubbish in the middle, I never have been. I’m interested in the extremes of both but I don’t really see them as being different.


W: You’ve performed across the world, New York, Paris, Istanbul, Athens. Could you tell us about the Athens performance, and how that came about?


T: The Athens performance was for a party to launch a magazine called Free, held somewhere in downtown Athens with 2000 people there. It was one of the most amazing things I ever did because it was the first time I used a lot of the Greek music I had. I played around with it. The introduction was an Anna Vissi track, the Greek Madonna, everyone in Greece would know this song. I played that at the beginning and everyone went mental. Then it suddenly cut to this other song and they were like, ‘What the hell!’ It was really exciting to me to play all this music that I really love and for people to respond to it and sing along. But also the Greek people just got it a lot more than a lot of people in London, because they’re not afraid of showing extreme emotion, fiery Mediterranean people. I am like that as well and I think a lot of that comes out in my performances. The reactions I got afterwards, the way they were speaking about it, wasn’t like a lot of people in London who just think its this crazy kid who runs round and screams. That’s not what its really about, its deeper than that. It’s more about the passion and the fire, and the Greek audience really got it. It was really amazing, one of my favourite performances.


W: What upcoming shows do you have?


T: Yeah, I’m doing Glastonbury and the Off-Set festival. But at the moment I’m not accepting many offers because I’m planning this big one night only show, which hopefully is going to be in the autumn, it's going to be called ‘Tonight is Forever’. I’ve got a composer called Jordo who I’ve worked with quite a few times and he’s putting together an orchestra with me. It’s not going to be a full orchestra but I’m also having about 30 dancers, a choir. It’s basically my most ambitious project. I want to take everything I do and times it by a thousand. I don’t think there’s any point just sticking to one thing. If I want to do something I might as well think big.


W: How does that work, having all of those other people involved, other dancers and musicians as well, in terms of not rehearsing and not really choreographing what you’re doing?


T: Well I had my first chance of doing that when I did a performance at the Tate at the beginning of the year. I had 12 dancers with me, and that was quite difficult at first. We were having all these meetings and they were like, ‘Oh, what do we do? We need steps, we need this, we need that’, and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no!’ I had to explain to them. In the end they kinda got it. It was a different way for them to work because for dancers everything is about the steps and its rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. The last part of the song was choreographed because it turned into a Busby Berkley musical, but the first ten minutes were all spontaneous. They got it by the end, they said that it was liberating for them. Because they’re dancers they know how to dance and improvised it looked really beautiful. What they can do with their bodies is amazing.

W: It makes me think of something you said in your manifesto, about wanting heart and soul above logic; that the free improvised stuff, especially for these trained dancers, is getting rid of the logic or the structure of the steps to find something more emotional.


T: Yeah, exactly, that’s exactly what I was trying to do. And I guess it worked for most of them. That’s why I want to go into this next stage. It’s a lot more people and it’s a lot more ambitious but I think it’s going to be good. I mean I don’t really know even if it will work, but I don’t care. I’m not really worried about that kind of thing. I’m just going to go in and do it. I think its weird for me because there are a lot of people who are interested in what I do. So if I do something a lot of people will see it. I don’t have the kind of thing where most people my age go to art school and they have the luxury of experimenting with all these things. I’m experimenting but I’m experimenting with an audience. I want the audience, I have this need for the audience but I just don’t think it can fail. I just don’t think its possible. It may not be exactly how I want it but in my head it looks amazing. I think I don’t need to worry about that kind of thing until like the day before. So at the moment I’m fine. [laughs]

LET HIM ENTERTAIN YOU by Theo Adams Company

Paper Magazine by Bunny Kinney - 2012

theo adams.jpg


I met British artist Theo Adams for the first time some years ago, when he was teeterin on ten-inch heels in the corner of BoomBox, London's East End freakshow fête. Tears artfully flowed down his face, covered in black glitter and smeared red lipstick, as he lip-synched to a Fantasia Barrino song through teeth lined in a train track of metal braces. "I didn't dress up like that just because I was attention-seeking," Adams tells me of his younger years as a club fixture, "I dressed up like that because I started going out when I was 14, and if you disguised yourself with makeup and crazy clothes, the bouncers couldn't tell how old you were."

Now at 22, Adams' flair for the visually dramatic as honed during his dress-up days as a precocious party boy has segued smoothly into a much-lauded career as a performer and artist. He now serves as the artistic director of the Theo Adams Company -- a group of 20 performers, artists, actors, musicians and dancers who together have recently completed an international tour of their show Cry Out, and will soon begin work on their next project, Entertainment, via a residency at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center on Long Island in March.

Occupying a space between pop and art, drama and drag, the company's performances are emotional spectacles that see a well-woven mashup of influences and homages, both highbrow and low. "Sometimes during our shows, we have seven tracks playing at the same time," Adams says of his often-frenetic soundtracks, in which live music and singing are interspersed with lip-synching to prerecorded vocals. And rather than being jarring, it works. "We use everything from Beyoncé to Maria Callas. My inspirations are really varied, from extremes of pop to classical or avant garde things. I don't see them as any different. And when they work together it just seems right."

Adams' life as a performer started early, having appeared in Stephen Daldry's West End production of An Inspector Calls when he was only nine years old. "It helped me understand audiences from a young age as well as how theater productions actually operated from a backstage point of view," he says of the experience. But it wasn't until 2008 that his company was formed in its earliest incarnation, as the result of what Adams recounts as one of the biggest -- and most telling -- dilemmas of his nascent career. "I was offered to go on Big Brother as a cast member, but at the same time I was also offered the chance to do a performance at the Tate Britain. I chose the Tate -- I don't know if that was the right choice," he laughs. He recruited friends and friends of friends, and for the first time Adams performed with other people. "I mixed Whitney Houston's vocals with Orthodox choral chants and stood on stage covered in white glitter while ten dancers emerged from semi-sheer flesh-tone sacks wearing black wigs that reached the floor." Shortly after, he says, "we performed at Union Gallery, got 500 tubes of lipstick and covered every wall."

As the company took firmer shape with its members and direction, Adams developed 2009's Cry Out, his Japan tour which led to an invitation from Louis Vuitton to help collaborate on the brand's re-launch in Tokyo. "I'm not a corporate slut, but I haven't got much money and I have a lot of big ideas. And companies like that have a lot of money and not many ideas, so why not work together?" For the performance, Adams was able to push his trademark coupling of disparate acts and ideas in a bigger way than ever before -- from a live concert by Sister Sledge ("Well, the Sisters fell out, so now it's one Sister plus a daughter and her random friend -- and they were incredible.") to a performance by a gospel choir exclusively composed of Japanese housewives and a sing-off hosted by a group of Filipino-cleaning lady karaoke superstars. Everyone from Takashi Murakami to Roppongi's most beautiful trannies turned up to take it in.

Though some of his earlier work features lipsynching to the standards of Judy Garland and Jennifer Holliday, for Entertainment, Adams plans on creating a completely original score. "I'm going to have someone onstage lip-synching another company member's live vocal. People look down on it, but to me lip-synching is a whole art form in itself," he says. "It's choreography for your face. It's not a drag act, and it's not important that I get the look right or the lips right, it's that I get the emotional body of the song and take it to another place. It's about taking the vocal and turning it into a real spectacle." 


Ponystep by Rachel Newsome - 2009

The missing link between Aeschylus – godfather of Greek tragedy, Nietzsche and Irene Cara, where Nietzsche went beyond good and evil, fusing eighties power ballads, queer cabaret and Wagnerian opera in predominantly nothing but a bit of leotard and a pair of nude tights, so Theo Adams boldly goes beyond irony to produce spectacular discharges of joy and pain that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Greek amphitheatre circa 500 BC. 

Theo Adams comes from a Greek family. He grew up listening to glass-shattering Greek power ballads, which indicates that at some level the loud, exaggerated body language and the even louder voice, the camp-ness and the flamboyance, together with the love of theatre and spectacle must spring from somewhere deep in the blood. Throw in Dame Edna, Liza Minelli and “Chess: The Musical” and the circle is almost complete. 

In equal parts epic, pompous, knowing, self-conscious, earnest, innocent, vehement, Dionysian, celebratory, cathartic, sacred, profane, mystic, revelatory, a Theo Adams performance looks something like this: 

Under a spectral blue light a dumb “chorus” with black sockets for eyes and dressed in plain white leotards contort in pain as if being pecked by invisible birds. Frozen in this nightmare, they are rooted to the spot unable either to articulate their pain or run from it. This, to the increasingly feverish attack of bow on strings as the pecking builds and builds. 

The set is simple; scaffolding, exposed wings, white strips of linen flowing from the back wall into the centre of the floor like bandages or the ribs of a whale. 

Inside this rib cage, perhaps the belly of the beast, the chorus shake and tremble as the strings are swamped by competing operatic voices, which bellow and swoon in turn; the call from heaven and from hell. 

As the music unfolds from feverish to menacing, the chorus begin to move, arching their backs and flinging themselves to the floor in acts of hysteria; modern day satyrs – half creatures, half gods, communicating their fear and wonder through wide-eyed stares. 

Stumbling into this orgiastic melee with the limp of an invalid enters Theo. His scalp is shaved like a monk from the centre of which flops a fin of black hair. Dressed in a skin-tight, sleeveless black ball gown, shrunk just short of tiny pink nipples on a concave chest, he could be Tiresias, the character from Greek literature who is fully man and fully woman, a priest, a priestess, a prostitute, a seer. Like the chorus, his eyes are black; his mouth bleeds with glitter. 

The chorus  - writhing now not from pain but ecstasy – tear the dress from Theo’s body. Overcome with obvious distress, he mounts the scaffolding. There, he weeps, he wails, he beats his chest and tears his hair, half-speaking, half-chanting the lyrics to “Going Nowhere”, originally written for Scottish child star turned singer, Lena Zavaroni, who died of complications relating to her life long struggle with anorexia, aged 35. 

The music is triumphant now, victorious; song of survivors and conquerors. Red glitter pours from the remains of Theo’s underskirt. It pours from his mouth, from his “lacerated” body. Suffering death by glitter, he too, is in ecstasy, as simultaneously he rises Phoenix-like from his ashes, burnt by the fire, wide-eyed and innocent again. But what is it that Theo has seen? Whisper it gently. The light. 

A strange marriage between the bright “Yes We Can!” optimism of Obama’s children and the darker Wildean kind in which we are all in the gutter but some are looking at the stars, Theo – who is nineteen going on ninety – has arrived, a divine messenger in glitter and tights, to re-light the candle and continue the dance. 

Rachel Newsome: Theo, your work treads a very thin line between irony and sincerity, is this intentional?

Theo Adams: In the last performance I did I was projecting images from The Wiz. It’s the 1975 Motown version of the Wizard of Oz starring Michael Jackson as the scarecrow when he’s really young and Diana Ross as Dorothy even though she’s 40 or something. It was panned by the critics and it’s very weird but I think it’s the best film of all time. There are flaws to it but I think that’s what makes it beautiful. They should be celebrated not laughed at. When I look at things like that, I genuinely love them. I’m not being ironic. I’m not laughing at it. I think it’s amazing. 

RN: We’re living in times of economic meltdown, global warming and terrorism, what is there to be optimistic about?

TA: Everything! Life is amazing! I’m so happy to be alive! Like, I just walk out on the street and I could get spat at but I could also find people dancing. I like the bad and the good and I think I bring them out in my performances. I like to bring it all together in a celebration of life. I was recently talking about power ballads and someone asked me if I thought they were emotionally manipulative and I said, yes they are but I think emotionally manipulative work is the best work as a performer that you can do. You’re changing the way people think. It’s a very direct way of doing things. I think people too easily dismiss things for being cheesy. I think people should step back and stop thinking about taste. I think the idea of taste is so boring. If Mozart was around today, he’d probably be writing power ballads. I do believe that! Some people might disagree but I think that’s the case. What he did was quite direct. It was complex and beautiful but it was also immediate.

RN: Do you make art or entertainment? 

TA: I think I try to do both. But entertainment is definitely important because I don’t want to go and see something boring.  I like to be entertained and I like to entertain people I’ve always had that in me and I genuinely think that Judy Garland, if you watch some of her later shows, is the best example of performance art you’ll ever see. She was very vulnerable. You can see her. She’s an amazing performer but she’s performing herself and her life and I find that quite interesting. The beauty for me is to be honest while I’m performing. It’s quite funny for me because when I first started performing I was like 15 or something doing it clubs. The press got interested in me. I did a TV show. I had a full page interview in the Metro. But they were all reading about me as “this crazzzeee kid who wears funny clothes!” no one was talking about what I did. It wasn’t a persona that I created, but that they created. It wasn’t honest. I don’t feel I created it.  They were just interested in the fact that I wore glitter or something. Then I got offered to do Big Brother. Endemol wanted me to do my own TV show. I was 17. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and it was too much so I just said no to everything.

RN: Why did you say no to Big Brother?

TA: I knew it was completely manipulative. I just don’t think I’d have the patience to do something like that. I don’t think it would be a very good reflection of me because they’d edit me however they wanted to, although I have no problem with people who go on Big Brother. I’m quite a fan of reality TV but I’m a fan because it’s so manipulative and I find that quite interesting. Basically, I’m too much of a control freak to let someone else have control over me. That’s why I do my own thing. 

RN: Do you ever stop performing “Theo”?

TA: I’ve always wanted an audience. The audience is what I thrive on. I feel life is a performance. I feel like I’m performing as myself. I never feel like I’m putting on a character. I don’t feel like I’m pretending to be anything I’m not but I am performing. I’m conscious of how I come across all the time.

RN: Who are your heroes and heroines?

TA: I think Judy Garland is amazing but I prefer Liza. She’s vulnerable but she has a survivor in her and it’s the survivor that I find really exciting. Definitely her. Elaine Stritch is another. Most of them are performers. The only men I can think of are men who like to wear heels. Like Justin Bond from Kiki and Herb. I met him when I was about 12. He’s helped me along the way. I’ve been quite lucky with the people I’ve met. I met them quite early on. I was a guest at his show at the Soho theatre. The difference between women and men for me is that women aren’t afraid to act like men a lot of the time. They’re not afraid to be strong so they tread the line with the gender but men don’t really go the other way. I like those people who are in the middle who have the glamour and the feminine energy but also the strength.

RN: What things first opened your heart?

TA: I remember I used to love “Dame Edna’s Neighbourhood Watch”. It was like a reality quiz where she would bring a member of the audience up on stage and at the same time there would be a camera at their home filming someone going through their house and all their things and they would literally just tear the house down so it was very anarchic. That was a big influence on me; the anarchy and glamour – the drag. I’ve never seen drag to be just funny. There’s something strong about drag. Like, I would never get into an argument with a drag queen. They’d kill you. Also, I was going to the theatre all the time when I was young to see musicals and stuff. At nine I was in Stephen Daldry’s production of “An Inspector Calls” in the West End and that was a very big influence on me. I didn’t speak but I was on stage the whole time. Basically, I was making everything happen. I was a symbol. The set was amazing. I could see behind the scenes. I’m really interested in the image that the audience sees but also the other side. I like to reveal that in my performances.

RN: How do you think that will evolve?

TA: I want to do a full performance with the wings exposed so that the dancers will dance, but then they’ll go into the wings and you’ll see them take off their shoes. If there’s ballet, then a lot of the time they’re bleeding and being out of breath. I like that idea of exposing because that is just as interesting to watch. 

RN: What are you reading right now?

TA: I only read scripts at the moment. I find them quite fun. I like musical scripts. I’ve just got “Chicago: the musical”. I have the characters in my head. I’m constantly on the computer reading Wikipedia articles about different things. I like information in short bursts. I guess it’s because I’m young. I don’t have the attention span so I have a bizarre knowledge about different things. People always say, “Theo, you’re only 19, how the hell do you know about that?” But it’s from looking at Wikipedia and YouTube. I don’t go to school so I do my own research, I have my own knowledge, so at the moment I’m learning about staging and the staging of “Chess” and how they changed it for America. It’s really fascinating. They had a ‘light up’ stage that moved and all these TV screens at the side. There are a few clips on You Tube of the original version but really bad quality but things like that, I get my inspiration from.

RN: What would you like to do next?

TA: I’ve kind of gone on a little journey from when I first started. Even though the performances are basically the same, it’s still got glitter and power ballads now I’ve got all these dancers. I’ve got David White who I work on with sets. I’ve got Jordan Hunt who I do music with who’s incredible. I kind of want to make it a bit more formal. Rather than it just be Theo Adams, The Theo Adams Company, if you like. Also, I want to do concept albums. Like if you go to a musical, they’ll be a sound track to it, like Chess. I was thinking about it yesterday and I thought it would be really interesting. They made the soundtrack before they did the show. They’re basically amazing pop songs that got to number one in the charts. I’d like to do that – songs within themselves rather than hour long soundtracks. I don’t know if they’d get to number one in the charts but you never know. I’d like to do more film work as well. I don’t see myself as making really obscure art films that are ten hours long and really boring. I think people would actually want to see them. I think they would be quite entertaining. But you need a lot of money to do it properly. And doing big spectacular things like the opening of the Olympic Games and stuff like that. I’d love to direct huge productions. 

RN: It’s a shame you won’t be around for the next millennium. Imagine the production for the celebration of the year 3000. 

TA: I know. Well, we’ll see what happens. . . 

RN: Then again, if you’re going to live forever, you could?

TA: I’m going to live forever, exactly!

THE(O) ADAMS FAMILY by Theo Adams Company

PONYSTEP Issue 05 - Written by Paul Flynn -  2013

Theo Adams is a creative force unseen since the heydays of Leigh Bowery. Onstage, his performances are at once touching and emotional, but delivered with a ballsy conviction that leaves the audience both bewildered and euphoric. Offstage, Theo maintains a lower profile, though in no way less interesting... Paul Flynn gets under the skin of fashions favourite show off!

Between mid-March and mid-April 2012, The Theo Adams Company decamped to the Long Island pile of cultural philanthropist and Einstein on the Beach director Robert Wilson for a month-long residency. I’d had my ear pricked about this on the East End gossip mill. I first came across Theo as a 15-year-old schoolboy, central to a scintillating brand of gender-dysphoric, mid-2000s London nightclub chaos. In seven short years he had turned his arresting social presence and brilliant performance compulsion into high art.

Back then, you could find him in full horror drag, like a demented grandchild of Fenella Fielding lip-syncing to the eruptive Dreamgirls classic And I am Telling You I’m Not Going while spitting glitter over drunken club kids. He lent the parties at Kash Point, Anti Social and later Boombox youthful dystopian menace. He once dragged the future editor of i-D, mortified, across a dance floor by her hair. His look was blood red, black, diamanté and hair. His aesthetic located the thrilling intersection between high-camp housewife and slasher-fiction corpse. He was a part of a crowd for whom the real-time suburban nightmare/fantasia of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent would turn out to be their Sex-Pistols-on-Bill-Grundy moment.

At 22, Theo assorted 18 performers from Japan, LA and London to take to Long Island. The intention was to put into development the first work for his (what? Theatre company? Performance Art troupe? Drag revue?) ensemble that had not been subject to commission. Even Theo finds it difficult to express what exactly it is that he does.

In a British political moment of benefits vilification and state austerity, Theo is a part of a third wave of uneducated, punk-descendant London visionaries that relies on the beneficiary of high-fashion brands to facilitate their vision. Prior to Robert Wilson extending his palm, annunciating him with international art significance, Louis Vuitton and MAC cosmetics had both proven generous enablers for his work.

At 23, Theo still lives at home with his father, Adam Adams (“can you believe that?”), in the mostly Jewish North London suburb of Golders Green. His wardrobe is assembled from the offcuts and castoffs of the women of NW11. His physical heritage and primary artistic instinct is Greek. He is a fan of the charity-shop designer favourite, Frank Usher. “He’d dress every Jewish mother for their kid’s Bar Mitzvah, so it was full-on sequins and beading and a lot of appliqué,” he explains. “I have a lot of that. Then I’ll find an Yves Saint Laurent suit for a fiver. Those kinds of women were the women I grew up with. That was my idea of glamour. I don’t believe in trashiness as a concept. One person’s trash is another person’s couture. I think everything is subjective. You like what you like.”

In April 2013 I met Theo at The Hackney Bureau, a café on Mare Street, E8, to talk about his transition from nightclub enfant terrible to art scion. He is voluble, expressive and infectious company, wearing a white bolero blouse, tight women’s jeans and intricate gold hoop earrings at four in the afternoon. Because of the attention gathered around the thrilling nightclub moment he birthed into and helped invigorate, his first performance was at Tate Britain. He sold out two nights at the ICA with no marketing and performed in New York at MoMA PS1. But the new show is clearly bearing a little heavily on his jolly, upbeat disposition. He explains the first scene, of a chorus figure running repeatedly into the curtain of a proscenium arch theatre before being taken toward the heavens as the curtain rises. He specifies lighting and, of course, costume detailing. He is at his most cerebral describing artistic ideas, clearly and succinctly, and his loudest when talking about another great love, reality television.

Theo has never seen divisions between high and low culture. “I’m interested in high drama. You get that from opera and you get it from Big Brother,” he says affirmatively. His favourite Big Brother characters are Nadia Almada, the Portuguese transsexual winner of season 5, and Makosi Musambasi, the reformed hooker that behaved like an African princess in season 6. “The ‘box task’ year,” he says, conclusively. He was four when MTV’s The Real World kick-started the age and parameters of reality TV and 10 when Hear’Say won the first of the big British Saturday night singing show-downs,Popstars. Controversially, he prefers the X Factor-endorsed brand of pop to the 1990s processed variant currently being celebrated on The Big Reunion, because the girls are now cast on it to sing, rather than stroll onto the cover of FHM in a bikini. “I like a girl with lungs.”

The roster of reality TV has allowed for further curiosities onto prime time. We spend a full four minutes discussing the Liverpool boyband that almost made it to the final of an early X Factor season, comprising three rent boy-looking types and a delicate out-of-drag tranny. “Eton Road,” he correctly identifies.    

Back in the world of high art, Robert Wilson’s place in Long Island, The Watermill Center, was not what Theo Adams was expecting at all. “It used to be an old laboratory for the Western Union,” he says. “They invented the fax machine there. I could definitely feel the ghosts of a few faxes in the atmosphere.” Wilson took 15 years to rebuild the premises to his specifications. “The builders would build and he would come in and make them change whole walls as they were slightly too close together. He was used to theatre sets rather than concrete so it took a long time. It was like living in a museum. Every corner you turned there would be some kind of amazing, priceless object.” Theo slept next to a vase dating back to 500BC, “just casually there, like it was something from Ikea.”

For its 18 newest collaborative artists in residence, selected by a board that includes some of the most dizzyingly high names of contemporary global art creation and curation (Marina Abramovic, Xavier LeRoy, Taryn Simon, Elisabeth Sussman from the Whitney, Jonathan Safran Foer, Wilson himself, among others), the immaculate polished flooring of the three-wing, quasi-Brutalist building turned out to be a problem. “The whole of The Watermill is incredibly anal,” he says. “One of the rules was no shoes in the majority of the building. Obviously a big signature of our work is the five-inch stilettos that the whole cast wears, which I was not willing to get rid of. The solution was them supplying us with 1,000 yoga mats, which we had to cover the floors of the rehearsal space in.”

As a result, The Theo Adams Company accidentally learnt a new discipline to add to its eclectic portfolio of movement, mime, music, dance and dialogue. “We are now experts at dancing in five-inch stilettos on a foam floor. Which is not an easy skill, I can tell you.”

The representational idea of the significance of the stiletto heel became, perhaps inevitably, central to Theo’s work for the month. “They encourage the residents to use any of The Watermill’s collection in their work. I was terrified of breaking everything so insisted on moving everything out.” One item from Wilson’s archive remained. “A plinth with a pair of satin heels with a bloodstain on the toes. They belonged to Marlene Dietrich and were apparently her favourite shoes. They were worn by her in her last ever performance. We just had them in the corner of our main rehearsal space and they proved to be a huge inspiration to us and the work we created. They represented glamour, pain and resilience, and had a huge darkness and melancholy.”

Theo Adams is better at explaining his work than he thinks. “They really were amazing. I didn’t really realise how much of an honour it is to be part of the residency programme before we went. I knew very little of Robert Wilson’s work, but having taken part in a residency there I feel like I’ve taken part in one of his artworks now. You begin to understand how his brain works after a few weeks there. In the US it’s a very well-known and respected place.” Truly, there is no more thrilling a way of becoming a big deal than not even realising it is happening to you.

In 2010, The Theo Adams Company performed its biggest commission yet: an event across 17 rooms with more than 80 performers for the fashion monolith Louis Vuitton. Theo was 20. “I never found out what the budget was because I never asked. Whatever I asked for, I would get. It was epic. I learnt from doing that project and working with suits from Paris how to get my own way, basically.”

He lit the toilets in red bulbs, piped canned laughter into the gents and applause into the ladies. “They were like: ‘Why? Why would you do this at a Vuitton event?’ It was all about luxury to them. I said: ‘Because that’s the way that it has to be.’”

For the evening’s finale, Theo wanted his great heroine Beyoncé to perform. Vuitton were prepared to match her fee but a lucrative sponsorship deal with the handbag manufacturer Samantha Thavasa stymied the singer’s contribution. Theo spent two hours trying to persuade the suits at LVMH that Whitney Houston would be a sustainable replacement, just prior to her death. “They didn’t want to pay her money because they didn’t think that she’d give it. I said ‘give her five minutes with me’.”

After four months working on the project from a London office, two weeks before show time, they still didn’t have a headline act. “I said ‘Sister Sledge’ and they said ‘Hmm, I think we can get Sister Sledge’. They came on to We Are Family. Five tracks, in a medley. It was a bespoke set in a hotel. The French doors opened at the upper level and they were lit in silhouette – like Dreamgirls, obviously – and started singingWe Are Family, [then] bang, they walked down these stairs.”

Theo was delighted that only one original ‘sister’ of the family Sledge remained. “I love that mix of the real and the fake. It was Kathy, the main one, and her daughter and some random friend. I loved it. It made it even more special for me.”

Was Kathy nice?

“Very professional.”

Did she understand the canned laughter and applause?

“Well – oh dear. I don’t think they told them what everything else was so when she came in she was a bit…”

What the fuck is this?

“Basically, yes. That’s what always happens with me.”

Sometimes it is the only way to make the high and low work in tandem.

Theo Adams learnt his powers of persuasion young. He won a competition at school for a teacher to design him a costume. He asked for it to be fashioned in the exact image of one worn by Dame Edna, the cross-dressing antipodean talk-show host, comic and anchor of his favourite TV programme at the time, Dame Edna’s Neighbourhood Watch. He was four years old. “My dad wasn’t pleased by this, but my mum let me have it.” It was the last time the family bothered to argue with Theo about his wilful look. They ironed it out early. “Sometimes my dad will still say ‘what have you got on?’, but to be fair I do sometimes look ridiculous.”

Adam Adams soon learnt to acquiesce to his son’s specific modes of presentation. The Dame Edna frock on his infant son was peripatetic schooling in what was to come during Theo’s adolescence. “There was never a moment where I suddenly shocked my family by what I wore. I have never felt the urge to rebel, because I don’t really think I’ve been too conscious of the rules to rebel against in the first place. I don’t feel like an outsider.” He is Instagram-era. Dressing up doesn’t have to be a personal act of solitary defiance anymore. It is shared. 

He hated school, obviously. “I just used to think ‘these people are idiots’. I had an argument with the headmaster. I made him write me a letter of apology. Obviously.”

For what?

“Not giving me the lead role in the school play. I was quite clever at that. Because I wasn’t attending school enough they wouldn’t give me the lead, even though clearly I should’ve got it and gave the best audition. They told me I couldn’t not attend and come in at the end of the day just to do rehearsals and of course I thought that was completely ridiculous and was like ‘why shouldn’t I?’ I refused to accept the letter of apology and left. Obviously now I understand why.”

He was transferred from his all-boys secondary modern to The Fine Arts Community School in Belsize Park, run by two artists – “Amazing and ridiculous, there’d be chairs flying around the room, people storming out, you called the teachers by their first name and sat round a big table” – but by this time he had already began dipping his toes in the nightlife just a short tube ride away from his home. Because of the precocious age he was picked up on for his performance skill, he didn’t bother with exams. “The first club I came to was Kash Point. I was reading The Face when I was 12 so I was always aware of these things happening. It wasn’t like I was living in a small town, dreaming about the big city I’d read about in magazines. It was all on my doorstep. So I was like: ‘Oh alright, I’ll go to that then.’ And I did.”

His penchant for the local wardrobe tastes of benevolent widows was part theatrical, part practical. “I dressed up because I liked dressing up but also because I was 15 so if you dress up a lot, with that heavy makeup and things over your head, then they can’t tell you’re 15.” His first night-time playmate was his elder sister Andrea, a Cambridge-educated academic who still sometimes performs with his company now. “She is brilliant at dancing like a cheap stripper.”

He was quickly taken under the wing of influential night-time faces, the performance artist Scottee and fine artist and idealogue Matthew Stone. “Scottee came up to me and was having a fake conversation into his stiletto heel, pretending it was a phone and I just went ‘you know thereís no-one on the other line? It’s a shoe, babes.’ And he liked that because I wasn’t pandering to him. He asked me to perform at his club night [Anti Social]. Then Matthew put me on more of the art side of things, in galleries.”

At the time, Theo presumed the only thing people found fascinating about him was “that I was really young and wearing funny clothes”. As with any 15 year old trotting out for a night on the tiles with his big sister, Theo saw no extenuating reason at the time as to why such a fundamentally quizzical, smart bunch of people should be coalescing around one particular area at one particular time. “It was a time when everyone believed they were going to be a pop star. That everything they were doing really mattered. Now it’s fun, but I don’t think that those kids genuinely believe that they are going to change the world. And I genuinely believe that we did think we could change the world.”

He understood clearly the predominant gender dialogue going on underneath it all. “Definitely. It was weird because the idea of a club kid disappeared. ‘Tranny’ seems to be just a new word for a club kid now. I don’t feel like I’m necessarily part of that. I guess my gender identity is important to me.” He thinks about this for a moment. “It’s ingrained. I’m interested in – I mean, today my nails are chipping but I will always have my nails painted on and I will always have my big earrings. I grow my hair. I might be wearing jeans and a shirt today but this was a women’s shirt and these are women’s jeans. At the end of the day it’s not just an idea of dressing up to me.”

That Jewish lady casual look is day realness?

“Exactly. It’s not me attempting to look like a woman, either. I don’t feel like I’m a man. I don’t feel like I’m a woman. I don’t feel like I need to be pigeonholed in any of these kind of ways.”

Theo never tried to genderise or boy-up. It didn’t interest him. “It hasn’t bothered me. It does bother other people, on the street, still. Most of the time because I’ve got my headphones in I don’t know what anyone’s saying but when you forget your headphones you realise the things that people say! It’s kind of odd.”

What Theo always knew was that spitting glitter on patrons at the George and Dragon was never going to be quite enough for him. “Which is great and I still do it and will probably do it for many years to come but that wasn’t all that I wanted to do because there’s only so much they can take from that. It’s not just me. You know, everyone’s drunk in a club and I did have that pull to do something where people would sit down and watch.”

In 2009, the amazing portraitist and fashion photographer David Sims shot The Theo Adams Company for a portfolio for W magazine. The budget looked astronomical to the young Theo. “It was that time when every magazine wanted to do a cool London shoot,” he says. It was not uncommon at the time to see Jonjo next to Kate Moss on a page in American Vogue. “In a way that was the reality of it though. She did come to Boombox. I was in there one night and this woman came up to me and asked about my fur coat. Like ‘Oh my God, where is this from?’ I was like ‘Who’s she, she’s on something.’ I ran up to Matthew [Stone] and said ‘That womanís sort of groping me’ and he was like ‘That’s Kate Moss.’ I had no idea. That’s another story.”

He picks up the tale of the W shoot. “When I work with production companies, they don’t tell any guest they’ve booked much about what’s going to happen. We had Lorna Luft for this W shoot and I wanted her singing in one of the images. She walked in on set and there was this huge production with my name in red sequins. We had Europe’s only red grand piano, which I’d ruined in the previous shot by scratching it with a pair of bejewelled leggings.” He laughs. “So I was lying topless underneath the red grand piano with black food colouring dripping out of my mouth and confetti flying everywhere. I wanted her to sing The Man That Got Away. Because it was Wthey had the budget to indulge me. I like still images to capture a moment in time. Just before she came in someone said to me: ‘OK, Theo, we have to be very careful about this because we don’t know what her reaction is going to be.’ All she knew was it was a shoot for W magazine. She had no idea about the 19-year-old topless boy with black blood coming out of his mouth. She just walked up on stage, took her position and said ‘Kid, you look great’.” It took Theo a moment to compose himself after the shutter stopped. “I was like: she came out of Judy Garland.”

Theo says he has always loved the Dreamgirls standard And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. “That was always my favourite song, from the first time I heard it.” He prefers the original Jennifer Holliday version to the Oscar-winning Jennifer Hudson reboot. “It’s always the original for me. Her doing it at the Tony Awards. The reason I love her so much is that she’s not afraid to be ugly, which makes her more beautiful. She goes to places that no one else would.” He says he loves it so much “Because it starts somewhere big and goes somewhere…”



He says it is his Greek heritage that infuses his love of high drama. “The biggest Greek diva is an amazing woman called Anna Vissi. Her biggest hits are huge, melodramatic torch songs. If you translated the lyrics into English they would sound ridiculous and over the top. But this is the mainstream in Greece. It’s pop, and it’s in my blood. I’m not afraid to be dramatic. It comes very naturally to me. It’s where I feel most comfortable, actually.”

Theo Adams was born in 1989, the second child and first son of Adam and Jenny Adams. Jenny suffered hard from multiple sclerosis and was instructed specifically by her doctor that childbirth could have a detrimental effect on her health. “I was always aware from a young age that she would not live forever, that death was inevitable,” says Theo. Mortality foreshadowed his life.

The thought warrants some fleshing out. It may have some bearing on his natural proclivity to drama and his fundamental, unshakeable fearlessness. “Having a disabled parent is a different kind of relationship. They look after you and you look after them. There is a genuine need for each other. My mum was everything to me. I was a ‘young carer’ since I could remember, but I wasn’t really conscious of it. It was just normal to me. But it did definitely make me conscious of what a gift being able to move is. I think that’s why I love dance and I do what I do. It’s a celebration and gift because I’ve always been conscious it could be taken away at any moment. My mum loved dance and danced when she was younger. I guess in a way I’m carrying that on for her.”

When I first saw Theo lip-syncing in nightclubs with his wild hair and demonic get-up, I had no idea of his story. Clearly it was born of some other urgency than the simple need to show off. But then so was everyone’s at that time in those clubs.

“Her disabilities got progressively worse as I grew,” he continues, “until she finally passed away in 2010. I came back from a show in Austria on the Sunday and she was admitted to hospital on the Tuesday. Within a few weeks she was gone. It was a strange feeling because I had never had an hour before where I hadn’t thought at one point ‘How is mum?’ or ‘I hope she’s OK’. And then I didn’t need to think like that; I guess I felt lost after. A few months later I was given the Vuitton job. I went pretty fast into the biggest show of my life.”

Since his big sister and little brother have left home to study, it is just Theo and Adam Adams at home now. They have a strong relationship. “I wouldn’t want to leave my dad alone. My mum and us are his life. I couldn’t just leave him.”

In the finale of the first night of the Vuitton show, Theo had a damascene moment. “I could basically see my mum in the spotlight. It was a really amazing feeling and I knew she was still there, keeping her eye on me.”

For some, performance is a gift. For others, it is a need. “Silence scares me,” he says. The new Theo Adams Company performance will be called Entertainment. Don’t let that fool you. It will be so much more than that.”